Podiatry may be described as the maintenance of the feet in healthy condition. A podiatrist is a specialist in the medical team who is responsible for the care of the feet of all ages of the population. The foot is a highly complex structure which, if care is not taken of it, can develop problems. It can be affected by many general medical and surgical conditions. Conversely, some foot disorders can have serious consequences on general health and well-being.
Podiatry is one of the professions allied to medicine, and members of the profession are taught to liase with work alongside other specialists. They will have a good working knowledge of the whole body, in order to assess the causes and general health implications of the foot problems facing them. Some podiatrists go on , after obtaining their first degree in podiatry, to specialise in such subjects as diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, geriatrics or paediatrics. Podiatrists are able to diagnose and offer treatment and advice on all sorts of foot disorders without the need for referral from medical practitioners, and are expected to manage conditions affecting the foot from birth to old age. The emphasis, though, is always on teamwork, so that the best overall health care may be offered to patients.
Many practitioners pursue postgraduate study to increase their capabilities beyond the level taught to them on the undergraduate course, not only for the specialities already mentioned, but also for surgical procedures such as the straightening of hammer toes and bunions.
The screening of schoolchildren for established and potential foot problems is an important aspect of the work of podiatrists, providing the opportunity to undertake foot health education and promotion. Many foot deformities develop early in life, and podiatrists are able to develop health promotion strategies and to treat and prevent problems that can occur later in life.
Many conditions are treated under local anaesthesia, such as ingrowing toenails, benign soft tissue tumours and corns. Post-registration training can lead to qualifications in surgery within the foot, Other treatment regimes include the prescription of orthoses, topical chemotherapy, cryotherapy, electrosurgery, ultrasonics, specialised dressings and exercise therapies.
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