love your feet

If you have a problem with your feet, your first response might not lead you to a podiatrist. But maybe it should.

Unlike primary care doctors, podiatrists are specialists who diagnose and treat chronic and acute conditions affecting the bones, nerves and muscles of the feet, toes, ankles and parts of the leg. A doctor of podiatric medicine (DPM) can refer patients to physical therapy, fit them with custom orthotics, reset broken bones, prescribe drugs, order lab tests and X-rays, and perform surgery.

Following are six risk factors that might send you to a podiatrist:

1) You’re a woman. Women’s feet are structured differently than men’s. Differences in ligaments, foot width, arches, and metatarsals make women more injury-prone and can lead to problems ranging from hammertoes to stress fractures.

2) You’re diabetic, overweight, or both. Diabetes can damage the nerves in your feet or legs, affecting the circulation in your feet and causing serious complications. Carrying excess weight puts added pressure on the feet and ankles, giving rise to injuries as well as inflammatory disorders.

3) You’re on your feet all day. Jobs that require standing for long periods—nurses, teachers, retail workers and more—can lead to fallen arches, plantar fasciitis, and other painful conditions.

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4) You’re an athlete, have a sports injury, or both. If you want to improve performance and reduce injury risk, see a podiatrist. They typically have more experience treating foot and ankle injuries than an orthopedist. They can also diagnose and treat other chronic or acute conditions that athletes are prone to, such as bone spurs, overpronation, tendonitis or arthritis.

5) You’re wearing the wrong shoes. Wearing high heels puts enormous pressure on the feet, leading to ingrown toenails, bunions and neuromas. Poorly fitting athletic shoes can lead to shin splints or stress fractures. A podiatrist can help you find shoes or orthotics that provide the right fit and support.

6) You have “minor” foot problems you hope will go away. Ingrown toenails, persistent athlete’s foot, heel pain, swelling or numbness could be signs of a more serious condition. Your feet are the workhorses of your anatomy, and they deserve proper care. If you want your feet to stay healthy and sound, a podiatrist might be your best bet.

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