Toenail cutting

What are podiatry and chiropody?

Podiatry and chiropody is a branch of the medical profession that specialises in the care of the foot and lower limb. Generally speaking, podiatrists and chiropodists can treat all forms of foot-related problems. This includes treating infections, both fungal and regular, fixing and treating any deformities and relieving painful symptoms. The list of conditions that a podiatrist or chiropodist can treat is huge as it encompasses all parts of the feet and lower limbs however some of the most common conditions we will treat are:

  • Ingrown toenails
  • Heel pain
  • Bunions
  • Verrucas
  • Plantar Fasciitis
  • Abnormal gait and walking patterns
  • Sports-related injuries
  • Skin and nail care

Treatment for any foot-related problem is dependent on the issue at hand, or foot, so to speak. Treatment for a foot-related issue could range from surgery to stretching exercises, laser therapy for fungal nails or carefully removing the hardened skin of a corn.

When should you call a podiatrist or chiropodist?

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there are no differences between a podiatrist and a chiropodist in their work; ‘chiropodist’ and ‘chiropody’ are simply outdated terms for a foot doctor.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?

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. You should, however, check the HCPC registry to ensure that your podiatrist or chiropodist has completed all the necessary training to qualify as a foot care professional.

How does podiatry differ from orthopaedics?

A podiatrist is different from an orthopaedic doctor for a couple of reasons, the primary being that a podiatrist solely focuses on the foot and lower limbs, whereas an orthopaedic doctor deals with all musculoskeletal systems. Podiatrists and orthopaedic surgeons will sometimes work closely together should the situation call for it. This is usually after a biomechanical assessment.

Who may need to visit a chiropodist or podiatrist?

Anyone with a foot problem or pain in their lower limb should visit a podiatrist or chiropodist for an accurate diagnosis of the problem.

More generally, those who have diabetes should more regularly visit a podiatrist or chiropodist for a thorough foot examination. This is because, over time, high blood pressure and blood sugar levels can cause injury in the nerve vessels of the feet as well as limit blood circulation, making it easier for damage to your feet to go unnoticed. Those who have diabetes are more likely to suffer from infections on the feet, foot ulcers, sores and toe abnormalities. Moreover, due to reduced circulation and sense of feeling in the feet, minor foot issues can quickly escalate into more severe problems, which, if left unaddressed, could lead to hospitalisation and, worse case, amputation.

If you have diabetes, it’s imperative that you have your feet regularly examined by a podiatrist or chiropodist. Try to have a thorough examination at least once per year and if you have any sore, ulcer, dry, cracked skin or pain in your feet, contact a qualified professional as soon as possible.

Another aspect that could cause you the need to see a podiatrist is your age. As we age, our feet can become more problematic and more susceptible to certain forms of foot issues. For example, as we age, our toenails begin to thicken, making us more susceptible to fungal nail issues. Not to mention the issues that could be caused by common issues such as arthritis.

Even if you don’t think you have a foot-related issue or any apparent pain, you should visit a podiatrist for a foot examination once in a while. This ensures that you don’t have any hidden foot issues and keeps you in tip-top shape.