Chiropody vs podiatry: Everything you need to know

Emily Whitton
By Emily Whitton,
updated on Oct 3, 2023

Legs and feet against a blue wall pointing upwards.

Podiatrists play a vital role in the support and maintenance of the lower limbs, but what else is there to know about this therapy, and does it differ from chiropody?

Podiatry, also known as chiropody, is a branch of medicine that deals with conditions of the feet and lower limbs. The role of podiatrists is to assess, diagnose and treat a range of foot problems. They often work very closely with other professionals such as physiotherapists, dietitians, nurses and GPs, in hospitals, the community and in private homes. Their goal is to reduce symptoms, maintain the patient’s independence and improve overall wellbeing.

What does a podiatrist treat?

Podiatrists are specialist ‘foot doctors’. While they are not the same as medical doctors, who are trained to treat a wide range of conditions, podiatrists obtain a ‘doctor of podiatric medicine’ and specialist training which means they can go on to perform surgery. These professionals are known as podiatric surgeons. A wide variety of foot conditions can be treated by a podiatrist. Some examples include:

  • fractures and sprains
  • bunions
  • nail fungus and disorders
  • arthritis
  • sports injuries
  • athlete’s foot
  • flat feet
  • dry, cracked heels
Perhaps a lesser-known role of a podiatrist is their ability to support people with diabetes. Diabetes can cause complications in other parts of the body, particularly the feet. In some cases, a podiatrist may be involved in the amputation of toes or the entire limb, but they’re also on hand to provide preventative care. 

Many podiatrists may have specific areas of expertise, so it’s common to find them working in any of these areas:

  • sports medicine
  • radiology (CTs, MRIs, X-rays and ultrasounds)
  • paediatrics (children’s foot care)
  • geriatrics (elderly foot care)
  • rheumatology (bone, muscle and soft tissue diseases)

Podiatrists don’t just treat foot-related conditions. They are also able to make casts to support bone fractures and breaks, discuss foot health, hygiene and preventative measures with patients, and liaise with other healthcare professionals if they feel their condition may be related to something else.

Is there a difference between podiatry and chiropody?

This is a commonly asked question, particularly as the two terms are often used interchangeably. The short answer is, no, there is no difference between the two professions. However, ‘podiatry’ is the more widely-recognised term nowadays, and is generally preferred. This is to reflect the changes made in the 1990s when we moved away from the term ‘chiropody’ to reflect the internationally recognised name for a foot specialist. Both ‘chiropodist’ and ‘podiatrist’ are terms recognised and regulated by the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC), meaning they must be registered to practice.

Should I see a podiatrist?

You don’t have to be experiencing a problem, pain or discomfort in your feet to see a podiatrist. They can also offer advice and recommendations about maintaining healthy feet, including the most appropriate footwear we should be wearing. Because of this, it is often advised by podiatrists to see a specialist annually. Much like going for a dental check-up, this is a good way to keep your feet in check. After all, the average person will walk 115,000 miles in their lifetime, and with 26 bones and 33 joints in each, our feet are subject to a lot of stress.

Reasons to see a podiatrist include:

  • Experiencing pain, discomfort and/or soreness of the feet.
  • Noticing swelling and inflammation.
  • Starting exercises, such as running, to learn techniques to avoid injury.
  • If you are diabetic, you are advised to have an annual foot check.
  • Treatment for skin conditions of the feet, such as dry, cracked heels.
  • If you require foot or ankle surgery.
  • If you have persistent infections such as an ingrown toenail or athlete’s foot.

What can cause foot problems?

There are a number of reasons why we might experience problems with our feet and ankles. Some of the most common causes include:

  • age-related changes
  • diabetes
  • injuries
  • a possible back problem
  • inappropriate or ill-fitting footwear
  • poor foot hygiene
  • genetics

Foot recovery

There are things you can do yourself to support your recovery from foot-related conditions. Of course, it’s important to listen to your body and take it slowly, so as not to cause further injury. Some at-home treatments include:

  • Gradually start to move your body by initially keeping activity to a minimum and gently moving the foot. Then, start to build this up over time.
  • Using pain medication to alleviate discomfort.
  • For any musculoskeletal pain (usually related to injuries) ice and heat may be applied. Be sure to keep contact to a minimum – up to 15 minutes at a time, with a few hours between treatments – and always use a barrier so as not to apply it directly to the skin.

If your condition persists, however, it is advisable to seek further help. Patients are typically assessed on a case-by-case basis. GPs may refer you to a podiatrist on the NHS, but there’s no guarantee you’ll be referred this way. Fortunately, many podiatrists also work privately. If you choose to go down this route, it’s important to make sure that your practitioner is regulated by the HCPC.

At Happiful and Therapy Directory, we only accept those who have shown proof of membership, so you can feel safe in the knowledge that you’re working with a reputable podiatrist.

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