Living Well: Foundational issues — Are foot, ankle problems keeping you down?
Podiatry is the treatment of disorders of the foot and ankle, including the toes and heels. A podiatrist is a specially trained physician, often a surgeon, with the initials DPM (doctor of podiatric medicine) behind his or her name.
According to the America Association of Colleges of Podiatric Medicine, podiatric physicians are uniquely qualified among medical professional to treat the lower extremity based on their education, training, and expertise.
If you have heart issues, you seek out a cardiologist. If your child is sick, you seek out a pediatrician. If you are having foot or ankle issues, you seek out a podiatrist.
“There are many treatment options to try when it comes to foot and ankle pain,” says Dr. Derek Harper, podiatrist at Memorial Regional Health. “When less invasive options aren’t successful, surgery may be the best way to find a resolution.”
Whether it’s the simple act of going from the car to the grocery store or pain in your feet and ankles is keeping you on the couch instead of on the ski slope this winter, it might be time to see a podiatrist. Not only might you be missing out on fun activities, but also, the more uncomfortable it is to walk, the more sedentary you may become, causing weight gain and possibly depression.
If you have just started a new workout routine and your feet are hurting, it could be the flair up of an old injury, old shoes, or just a nagging problem that is sending you a reminder to schedule an appointment. If you also suffer from diabetes, even small problems with your feet can turn into major medical issues if you aren’t careful.
Common foot conditions
Plantar fasciitis and bunions are fairly common conditions a podiatrist can treat.
“Plantar fasciitis sets in when someone overuses his or her heels, as with heavy sports training. It also occurs when people have flat feet or high arches, experience tight Achilles tendons, change shoes, wear poor-quality shoes, or gain weight,” Harper said.
A common sign of plantar fasciitis is a stabbing pain in your heel. It might be worse immediately upon rising in the morning or after long periods of sitting. The good news is that it’s usually fairly easy to treat and rarely requires surgery.
“Stretching is often the most effective treatment, as 85 percent of people with plantar fasciitis feel better with stretching techniques three to four times a day,” Harper said. “If surgery is needed, it’s minimally invasive. An endoscopic plantar fasciotomy releases the ligament, allowing it to heal. Only a small number of people need surgery, but those that have it are happy with it 90 percent of the time.”
Bunions are bony bumps that form on the outside area of your big toe. The bump forms on the joint that sits directly below your toe in reaction to continual pressure caused by a variety of reasons, including how you position your feet when walking, a structural defect, a medical condition or injury, or simply tight, narrow shoes.
“In my experience, a good share of bunions are formed due to the way your foot functions. If you overpronate or have a bit of an unstable walk, your muscles overwork and cause the deformity,” Harper said.
Symptoms include a bulge or bump on the outside of your foot below your big toe, a feeling of soreness or swelling in the joint of your big toe, corns or calluses that develop between the first and second toe, pain, and restricted movement.
“If symptoms are not too severe, my first approach is suggesting wider, more comfortable shoes and fitting orthotics. If pain persists and interferes with your daily life, then surgery is likely needed to bring relief,” Harper said.
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