Although there are lots of stretches, exercises and foot-care products you can use to keep your feet in good shape (as this article has discussed), with almost any foot problem there are some circumstances in which certain individuals should find a podiatrist rather than attempting to self-treat.
Seeing a doctor is definitely the best course of action if you are diabetic or have circulation problems, as well as troubles with your feet. Likewise, if you are under the continuing care of a physician for another reason -- such as pregnancy, problems associated with aging, significant overweight, or high blood pressure -- or if you have recently had surgery, you would do well to discuss your foot pain, and the best treatment for it, with your doctor.
Some foot problems should never be treated with home remedies; instead, you should immediately see your doctor or, in some cases, go to a hospital emergency room. These serious situations include:
- foreign body embedded in the foot
- severe ankle sprain
- dog, snake, or other animal bite
- pinched nerve
- psoriasis or another serious skin disorder on the foot (in this case, see a dermatologist)
- deformities of children's feet, such as club foot or webbed or overlapping toes
- foot problems that occur in conjunction with a serious disease (for instance, Kaposi's sarcoma: lesions on the skin throughout the body that are often associated with the HIV virus)
- any lump inside the foot that appears mysteriously (which could be a tumor)
- unexplained pain, swelling, and tenderness around a bone (which could be a sign of osteomyelitis, a very serious bone infection, or osteosarcoma, bone cancer)
Aside from these specific situations, your best general guidelines as to when to see a doctor are the extent and the duration of your discomfort. Extreme pain is a sign that something is seriously wrong, and, even if you believe you know how to treat it, you should consult an expert to be sure you've pinpointed the exact cause of the pain.
And if you follow the advice given for your problem and it still doesn't go away -- if pain, itching, swelling, discoloration, or any other symptom of the problem persists -- see a podiatrist.
Podiatrists, doctors who specialize in diagnosing and treating foot problems, have the letters "DPM," which stand for Doctor of Podiatric Medicine, after their name. Some podiatrists have a narrower focus in their practice and treat just sports injuries to the foot. For information about this specialty, consult the American Academy of Pediatric Sports Medicine.
When choosing a podiatrist, you will want to consider all the same factors you do in choosing any other doctor. Try to speak with other patients to find out about their experiences. When you meet the doctor for the first time, ask as many questions as you need to in order to feel that he or she understands your problem. Also, ask about his or her hospital affiliations and experience in treating your particular problem. To locate a board-certified podiatrist in your area, ask for recommendations from a major hospital, your state Department of Health, or the American Podiatric Medical Association. The latter has a toll-free hotline, 800-FOOTCARE, just for this purpose.
When you use the preventive care strategies outlined in this article, choose your shoes wisely, and know when a doctor's advice is warranted, you're well on the way to having a long, healthy relationship with your feet.
To learn more about treating and avoiding problems with your feet, visit:
Suzanne M. Levine, DPM, was a contributing writer to this article.