A podiatrist is always the first port of call when a patient requires specialised foot and ankle care; they specialise in diagnosing and treating foot problems and conditions related to the lower legs. Podiatrists treat everything from bunions to infected toenails, and patients are guaranteed to receive the best solution for their foot-related problems. However, there is another term used typically by the older generation concerning foot doctors: chiropodist.

But, what exactly is a chiropodist and are they the same as a podiatrist? Technically, there are no differences between a podiatrist and a chiropodist in their work; ‘chiropodist’ and ‘chiropody’ are simply outdated terms for a foot doctor. These terms were replaced around the second half of the 20th century by ‘podiatrist’ and ‘podiatry’.

The change from ‘chiropody’ to ‘podiatry’

You may be wondering, why the sudden change if both terms mean exactly the same thing? Especially when some countries still officially use the term chiropody to describe foot and ankle medical care – countries such as the United Kingdom and the United States led the way in the 1960s when changing the word to podiatry for two reasons:

Confusion with chiropractors – Chiropractic is considered to be a type of complementary and alternative medicine. Chiropractors use their hands to help relieve problems with the bones, muscles and joints. In the 1950s and 60s, this type of medicine was becoming increasingly popular, and chiropodists were being confused with chiropractors. Therefore, it was decided that chiropodists would adopt a new term to avoid confusion, this being ‘podiatry’ or ‘podiatrist’.

A more evident root – The term ‘chiropody’ comprises two roots – ‘chiro,’ which means hands, and ‘pod’, which means foot in greek. The origins of ‘podiatry’ come from ‘pod’ and ‘iatros’, meaning ‘physician’ in greek, by changing the word from chiropody to podiatry, allowing better embracement of the modern reality of the podiatric profession. This way, it became a recognised branch of modern medical care rather than an unofficial specialisation performed by specific physicians.

Can you expect the same level of care from a chiropodist/podiatrist?

Whilst plenty of countries have ceased to use the word chiropodist, some countries such as Canada and smaller organisations still use chiropody. But, can you expect the same level of health care?

This may vary on a case-by-case podiatrist basis, but generally, licenced podiatrists are trained and educated to do the following:

  • Perform podiatric surgery related to the foot and ankles
  • Perform microsurgeries and reconstructive surgeries
  • Perform physical examinations and study medical histories
  • Diagnose and treat conditions such as ingrown toenails, flat feet, cracked heels and athlete’s foot
  • Administer anaesthetics and also sedation for conditions related to the foot and ankles
  • Prescribe medication
  • Interpret x-rays and also other medical and imaging studies, giving podiatric advice and diagnosis
  • Perform certain physical therapy
  • Prescribe, order, and fit prosthetics, casts, insoles and orthotics
  • Diagnose and treat sports-related injuries, including setting fractures

If you are unsure about a doctor who refers to him or herself as a chiropodist, you should check that they have the proper education and certification to perform the tasks of podiatrists. For the most part, the differences between podiatrists and chiropodists are one of semantics – in any case, they should be able to provide proper foot care.