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Have you ever had an ingrown toenail or a foot fracture? If so, than this might be your foot's way of telling you something is wrong with the way you walk or maybe with the shoes you are wearing. It could be something more serious, and if this is the case, then chances are you have visited a chiropodist. Chiropodists diagnose and treat diseases, deformities and injuries of the human foot and help patients prevent foot-related disorders. Their treatment methods include braces, casts, shields, orthotic devices, physical therapy and prescribed medications. They also perform surgery on the bones of the forefoot and the subcutaneous soft tissues of the foot. They tend to care for people with diabetes, arthritis and sports-related injuries.

Our feet are an extremely important part of the body that most people neglect. Some say feet are ugly, but regardless of looks, without them, we would not be able to walk. The foot is an intricate structure containing 26 bones, 33 joints, 107 ligaments, 19 muscles and tendons that hold the structure together and allow it to move in a variety of ways.

Chiropodist and podiatrist titles are used interchangeably, although the title podiatrist is becoming more common. Nevertheless, chiropodists deal with all types of foot disorders, including ingrown toenails, tumors and cysts, bunions and bone growths, warts, corns and calluses, deformities from birth or neglect, sprains and fractures, abnormalities of gait and posture, and skin disorders. They help keep our feet in walking and working condition.

Chiropodists specialize in prescribing orthotics, which correct areas of malfunction, such as flat feet. Orthotics are individually designed prescription shoe inserts/insoles that correct the gait of a patient who has problems walking. They are produced from casts taken of the patient's feet, and from the results of the biomechanical assessment. Orthotics controls the joints and range of motion, and can certainly help in reducing pain. Some chiropodists use computer programs and special measuring devices to make orthotics.

Orthotics can be made to cater to most sports, as well as just walking and going about your daily business. In fact, special sandals, such as Birkenstocks, can be made orthotically for patients. Also, athletes who suffer from shin splints can often get relief from wearing orthotics, making their chosen sport more bearable and pleasurable.

Many chiropodists specialize in sports medicine and treat and operate on athletes. In fact, almost all professional sports teams have a working chiropodist on staff. chiropodists say that karate and aerobics are the two sports most likely to cause foot injuries. Another big speciality area for chiropodists is in gerontology. Many of the elderly have foot problems associated with circulation.

Chiropodists can also make plaster casts to fix bone fractures in the feet. When it comes to foot deformities, chiropodists analyze how people walk to that they can ease pain and discomfort felt in these people. They design braces, casts or special orthotics to help a person walk properly. Also, since all ligaments, joints and muscles make their way down to our feet, chiropodists can detect early signs of diabetes and heart disease.
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  Interests and Skills  
Chiropodists are interested in helping people with foot disorders. They have the intellectual ability required to successfully complete the required academic training and to pursue a course of life-long learning, and the stamina required to work long hours. They have excellent communication skills and can get along with people well and instill confidence.

Chiropodists enjoy finding solutions to problems, dealing with people, and directing the work of others. They must also be proficient in foot medicine -- they must have and apply the knowledge to diagnose foot diseases, injuries and disorders. Also, ethics is a strong point for these types of people because they have to do what is right for their patients with their best interests in mind.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Assess and diagnose foot problems by observing symptoms, reading x-rays and interpreting medical test results
  • Work out the cause of the foot problem by questioning and using video gait-analysis equipment
  • Treat foot problems by prescribing orthotic devices, providing palliative care or, in some cases, prescribing medication
  • May perform minor surgery on feet, such as ingrown toenails and wart removal
  • May take foot x-rays in the case of a fracture or for a scope
  • Offer advice on foot health and prevention of foot disorders
  • Help patients choose suitable treatment options
  • The majority of chiropodists are self-employed and have the flexibility to set their own hours. They generally work standard office hours, approximately 50 per week, however they may also work evenings and weekends for the convenience of their patients. Chiropodists spend their days conducting examinations, treating and consulting with patients, and doing the required paperwork involved in running an office.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Most chiropodists run their own private practices or work with a group of chiropodists and podiatrists. Some work in hospitals, government institutions and nursing homes.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Advancement as a chiropodist often takes the form of becoming a recognized expert in specific types of foot problems or treatments. Nevertheless, chiropodists are really specialized, therefore many tend to stick with the profession. With further training, chiropodists could make orthotics or become sports therapists since athletes have many foot related problems. They could also go into teaching and research.

  Educational Paths  
Chiropodists usually require completion of a degree program in chiropody, obtained abroad. Students must complete a three year diploma program, taking courses in anatomy, medicine and psychology. Volunteering at a chiropody clinic or speciality shoe store is also helpful to gain experience in this field.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002, http://www.bls.gov/oes/2002/oes_nat.htm

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