Any of us can suffer from twinges in our feet from time to time. In fact, during the pandemic, there has been a rise in Canadians suffering from foot pain and injuries due to not wearing shoes at home.
If you have a long-term condition such as diabetes, ongoing monitoring from a foot specialist is essential.
But what exactly is a podiatrist? What is the difference between a podiatrist and a chiropodist? What benefits are there from consulting one?
Let's explore those questions in more depth, and see how they can help you keep your feet in great shape.
What Is a Podiatrist?
A podiatrist is a specialist who diagnoses and treats problems with the feet and lower legs. They have an in-depth knowledge of conditions that affect these areas, and can also treat injuries.
Some long-term health conditions can lead to complications with the feet and lower legs. The most common of these is diabetes, which can cause diabetic neuropathy. Podiatrists specialize in treating these kinds of conditions.
Are They Doctors?
In Canada, podiatrists are doctors of podiatric medicine. However, they are not general doctors and do not have an MD degree. Instead, podiatrists must obtain a Doctor of Podiatric Medicine (DPM) degree.
Podiatrists in Canada do not use the title 'Doctor'.
Currently, only one university, situated in Quebec, offers this program in Canada. Students may also choose to qualify in the UK or United States.
It can take up to 8 years to qualify as a podiatrist. Some types of podiatrists are able to perform surgery on the feet. To qualify as Podiatric Surgeons, podiatrists need an additional three years of education and training.
Podiatrist Vs Chiropodist
As you read the description of what podiatrists do, you may well be asking yourself - aren't they the same as chiropodists?
Podiatrists and chiropodists are both primary health care providers, and they both focus on the lower limbs. To understand the differences, and the similarities, we need to learn more about how they are regulated in Canada.
In all of Canada, podiatrists and chiropodists specialize in caring for the feet and lower legs. However, podiatrists are more highly trained and qualified. They are able to carry out treatments that chiropodists cannot.
The exception is Ontario. The College of Chiropodists in Ontario regulates podiatrists and chiropodists. Since 1993, it has not registered any new podiatrists.
US-trained podiatrists must register as Chiropodists to practice in Ontario. This is in accordance with the Ontario Chiropody Act of 1991.
In Ontario, podiatrists and chiropodists are able to:
However, in other parts of the country, they are not interchangeable terms.
To qualify as a chiropodist in Canada, you must complete a 3-year diploma-level course. This requires a baccalaureate degree for admission. Chiropodists can use the designation DCh.
However, most podiatrists working in Canada have trained in the United States. They have to complete their baccalaureate degree and pass the Medical College Admission Test. They then complete a hospital-based residency as part of their training. After this, they are qualified to practice as a Doctor of Podiatric Medicine.
Some provinces will only permit US-trained podiatrists to practice. This includes Alberta and British Columbia.
Each province has its own regulations and licensing exams that podiatrists must pass before they can practice.
Who Can a Podiatrist Benefit?
A podiatrist can benefit people of all ages.
An early check-up from a podiatrist can help to diagnose any structural imbalances a child has. If a podiatrist can treat foot conditions at this age, they can provide a better foundation for future growth.
Elderly people can also benefit from podiatric treatment. They can help people to stay on their feet, mobile, and active for longer. This can lead to people being able to stay in their own homes for longer and enjoy a better quality of life.
Patients with diabetes can also benefit from regular monitoring. As diabetes can lead to nerve damage and circulatory issues, regular foot care can help to avoid complications.
People with Foot Pain
People of any age can suffer from foot pain. This can be related to sports injuries, tendonitis, neuroma, fractures, and problems related to the arches.
Podiatrists can also train general foot conditions that cause pain. These include athlete's foot, ingrown nails, and corns.
At times, you may be unsure of the cause of your foot pain. Podiatrists are trained to diagnose foot problems. You may be referred by your family physician to a podiatrist for further investigations.
People with Foot Irregularities
We may not have any structural issues with our feet. However, at any time in our lives, we may develop one or more of the following foot irregularities:
- Thick or discoloured toenails
- Growths like warts
- Cracks or cuts in your skin
- Scaling on peeling on your soles
It's important to seek medical advice from a podiatrist if you are suffering from any of these conditions. Not only are they painful, but breaks in the skin can also lead to infections. Thick or discoloured toenails may indicate that you already have a fungal infection.
Prompt treatment from a podiatrist can help to resolve these problems. This may stop them from developing into something more serious.
What Can a Podiatrist Help With?
If it has to do with the foot, a podiatrist can treat it. They are able to resolve injuries and manage long-term conditions. They can also provide effective short-term treatments.
Fractures and Sprains
If you fracture a bone in your foot or sprain your ankle, you need to visit a podiatrist.
Their in-depth understanding of the biomechanics of the foot ensures that you get the best possible treatment. They will use a combination of a physical examination as well as imaging studies of the foot to understand the issue. They will then provide the right treatment and advice to get you back on your feet.
Nail disorders can be very painful. They range from fungal infections to ingrown toenails.
Fungal infections can cause the toenails to become thick and brittle. They will not go away on their own, and if you leave them too long, you may lose the nail. Podiatrists can provide medications to stop the infection and repair the damage.
Ingrown toenails occur when part of the nail grows into the soft area around the toenail. Your podiatrist may advise trying home remedies. If they do not work, they can surgically remove all or part of the nail.
Bunions and Hammertoes
Bunions and hammertoes are deformities in the joints of your toes.
Bunions occur in the main joint of the big toe. Over time, a bump develops and it pushes the big toe towards the other toes. This can cause crowding and pain in the joint.
Hammertoes are toes that are no longer straight. They have a permanent bend at the joint in the middle of the toe, causing the tip to face downwards.
Both of these painful conditions can be treated by a podiatrist. In some cases, surgery will be needed. At other times, orthotics can help.
Pain in the back or base of the heel can make life very uncomfortable. It can have a number of causes, including plantar fasciitis, arthritis, heel spurs, and problems with the Achilles tendon.
Heel pain can result from ill-fitting footwear and exercise. A physical examination from a podiatrist will help to diagnose the condition.
Even with medication or insulin, many diabetics suffer from elevated blood sugar levels. Over time, this can cause diabetic neuropathy. This condition can cause pain, tingling, or numbness in the feet.
This makes you more susceptible to cuts and sores on the feet, which can lead to infection. Added to this, diabetes can also impede the circulation of blood in the feet. Some diabetics have had to have their feet amputated due to untreated diabetic complications.
Everyone with diabetes should have regular checkups with a podiatrist. If you have any problems with your feet, see a podiatrist as soon as possible. They can monitor the condition of your feet, and provide early treatment to prevent problems from escalating.
Arthritis means inflammation in the joints. There are 30 joints in the foot, so sadly it is prone to many different forms of arthritis.
One of the most common forms is osteoarthritis. This occurs as we get older, but can also occur in young people. The cartilage between the joints wears away, causing bones to painfully rub together.
The goal of the podiatrist is to reduce pain from arthritis and improve or maintain the function and mobility of the foot. They can also help to protect the skin and soft tissues from further damage.
It's easy to dismiss foot and ankle pain in children as growing pains. However, they could be the result of malalignment problems. If your child is having any problems with walking, has flat feet, or has other foot and ankle issues, a podiatrist can help.
They can diagnose the issue and recommend treatment, which can help them to develop normally.
This is a painful condition, in which a nerve between the third and fourth toes becomes irritated. A podiatrist can assess the extent of the issue. They can advise whether home treatments are sufficient, or a painkilling injection is needed.
In some cases, surgery may be required to remove the damaged nerve.
What Happens During a Podiatry Session?
When you visit a podiatrist, be ready to discuss your medical history. Come prepared with information about medications you are taking, and any surgeries you have already had.
They will also want to know in as much detail as possible, any issues you are experiencing with your foot.
After gathering this information, they will perform a physical examination. They may ask you to stand and walk, to identify issues with your gait. They will then examine your feet.
The podiatrist can begin treatment for some conditions on the first visit. If you require orthotics, they will measure you for these. They may also refer you for physical therapy.
How Often Should You See a Podiatrist?
If you have diabetes, it's essential that you visit a podiatrist at least once a year. In the meantime, if you have any issues with your feet, schedule a visit as soon as possible.
If you have had problems with your feet in the past or are getting older, it's a good idea to visit a podiatrist every year. In their regular examinations, they can identify problems in the early stages. Early treatment often leads to better long-term outcomes.
Even if you have healthy feet, it's still good to have regular checkups. Many people carry on with undiagnosed issues for years, which can cause long-term problems. Regular exams and advice can help to keep your feet healthy.
Where Do Podiatrists Work?
Podiatrists treat people from all walks of life, and at all stages of life. For this reason, they work in a wide range of settings. These include:
- Podiatry Offices
- Group Practices
- Private/Public Hospitals
- Outpatient Care Centres
Podiatrists may treat people living in assisted living facilities. Older people can especially benefit from podiatric care.
How Much Do Podiatrists Cost in Canada?
The cost of visiting a podiatrist in Canada varies from province to province and depends on the treatment you require. The body that regulates podiatry in the province may provide suggested fees. However, these are a guide and podiatric clinics can set their own pricing.
Let's compare initial consultations across the country. In Ontario, consultations range from $70-120. In Saskatchewan, you can expect to pay between $80-100 for initial treatment in a podiatrist's office.
In Quebec, around $100 is standard for a consultation. In British Columbia, a new patient consultation costs $80.
These examples show that there is a broad consensus in the pricing of podiatric consultations across the country.
Do Provincial Plans Cover the Cost of a Podiatrist?
Cover for podiatry varies from one province to another. This ranges from covering only a small portion of the cost, to no coverage at all in most provinces.
- Ontario - a small portion of the cost of podiatry and related x-rays is covered by OHIP
- Manitoba - no coverage
- Alberta - included, with limitations
- Saskatchewan - no coverage
- British Columbia - non-surgical podiatry covered for low-income individuals
- Prince Edward Island - no coverage
- Newfoundland and Labrador - no coverage
- Quebec - no coverage
- New Brunswick - certain people eligible if in medical need
- Northwest Territories - not covered
- Nova Scotia - no coverage
- Nunavut - no coverage
- Yukon - no coverage
In provinces with no coverage, podiatry is often covered under supplementary health policies.
Final Thoughts on Podiatry
From our guide, we hope you've learned when to see podiatrists and the valuable services they perform.
Keeping our feet healthy is vital at any age - they put in some serious work! It's especially important to work with a podiatrist if you have a long-term condition such as diabetes, or a history of foot problems.
Most provincial plans provide little to no cover for podiatric services. At Insurdinary, we can help you to find the right health insurance for your needs - one that covers the care of a podiatrist.
Get quotes for health insurance in just a few minutes!
Insurdinary provides these articles for educational purposes only. Please take a moment to read our disclaimer.