A chiropodist uses a range of techniques to treat chronic conditions that affect lower limb function. Therapeutic, surgical, orthotic or palliative treatments are among the most effective methods. These can help to alleviate a range of common foot problems, such as corns, athletes foot and bunions.
On this page we will explore chiropody in more depth. We will look at how a foot doctor diagnoses and treats patients and how chiropody can benefit you. We will also identify the difference between chiropody and podiatry.
Maintaining foot health
Feet take the weight of the entire body. As a result they can be subjected to a lot of stress and strain. Maintaining foot health with proper care and cleanliness is key to preventing common foot problems, which can only add to stress your feet are under.
There are a number of reasons why foot problems occur, and they can cause extreme discomfort and pain. Walking may also become difficult as foot problems can affect mobility.
It is often the case that people neglect their feet - cramming them into tight, ill-fitting shoes and ignoring minor problems when they occur. These however can rapidly escalate and lead to knee, back and hip pain - affecting overall well-being. Chiropody treatment helps to ensure any abnormalities, infections or injuries of the foot do not get to this stage. It can also educate people about the importance of maintaining foot health for better mobility, independence and quality of life. If you are experiencing symptoms such as persistent pain, redness or soreness of the feet, you should seek advice quickly. If you go to your GP, they can refer you to a chiropodist for treatment. You can also use our advanced search tool to find a chiropodist near you.
The difference between chiropody and podiatry
One of the most frequently asked questions is: 'What is the difference between chiropody and podiatry?' The truth is chiropody and podiatry are the same thing. 'Podiatry' is just a more modern and internationally recognised term to describe the practice.
Chiropodists and podiatrists are part of the same profession. They have the same qualifications and in the UK the titles are interchangeably. However, today more practitioners are adopting the term ‘podiatry’ to describe their services. This is to reflect recent developments in clinical practice and to align with other countries. Fundamentally, chiropody and podiatry deal with the same degree of assessment, diagnosis and treatment of the lower limb.
Professional foot care has been practised since the Egyptian era. This is evidence by bas-relief carvings, which can be found at the entrance of the tomb of Egyptian physician, Ankhmahor in Saqqara. The first written records of foot problems can be traced back to ancient Greece. Greek physician, Hippocrates described the look and texture of corns and calluses in his writings. He also expressed the need to physically remove hard skin on the feet to promote foot health. It was Hippocrates who invented the first foot scrapers.
Throughout history, chiropody has been practised all over the world. A number of historical figures - including Napoleon and U.S President, Abraham Lincoln - regularly sought chiropody treatment. Despite a growing recognition and demand for chiropody as time went on, it wasn’t until the early 20th century that chiropodists were formally recognised as professional physicians.
The first society for chiropodists was opened in New York in 1895. This was followed by a British society, in 1919, which opened at the London Foot Hospital. Since then, a number of professional journals on the practice have been published. These have given the study of foot care ('podology') greater significance. It is thought many basic skills practised today by foot doctors originate from the first half of 20th century.
What does a chiropodist do?
The role of a foot doctor is to treat and alleviate common foot problems that can hinder mobility and cause pain. People of all ages and health can seek chiropody treatment. A foot doctor will provide general foot care knowledge to help them maintain healthy feet in the future. With the right care and advice, patients can learn to take better care of their feet and avoid further problems.
Many chiropodists choose to specialise in specific areas of foot care. This means they can supply a range of treatment options and foot health advice. For example, some are trained in biomechanical analysis. This involves the study of feet alignment and structure and how these elements affect posture and motion.
Chiropodists with this expertise will assess patients for common foot problems such as flat foot, heel pain, knee pain and bunions. They will then implement treatment typically known as orthotics. This involves the provision of tailor-made insoles or padding. These orthotic devices can be inserted into shoes to re-align feet and relieve arch or heel pain. They will improve mobility, provide comfort and reduce the development of further foot problems. A chiropodist may also recommend special chiropody shoes to provide extra support.
In addition to orthotics, foot doctors may also specialise in:
Diabetic care - Due to restricted blood supply to the feet, diabetics can be prone to foot problems. These can escalate rapidly but will take longer to heal. Chiropodists can help diabetics to maintain foot health and prevent the development of serious problems.
Sports injuries – Overexertion can put feet at risk of injury such as muscle pull, ankle sprain, and blisters. Chiropodists can identify these and provide appropriate treatment to facilitate speedy recovery.
Paediatrics – Treating common foot problems in children.
Geriatrics –Treating common foot problems in the elderly.
Podiatric Soft Tissue Surgery – A chiropodist can remove minor skin problems of the foot such as verrucas and corns. Using sterile instruments, they will cut them out while the patient is under local anaesthetic.
Wound healing – A foot doctor will tackle wounds that can damage the skin. These include abrasions, lacerations and punctures. Treatment is designed to prevent complications and preserve function.
Rheumatology – Caring for patients with conditions affecting the musculoskeletal system. These include joint diseases such as arthritis, bone and muscle diseases, and conditions affecting soft tissues.
Chiropodists are regulated by the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC). This means the title is legally protected and anyone calling themselves a chiropodist/podiatrist must be on the HCPC register in order to practice.
What to expect during chiropody treatment
If you are due to see a chiropodist, your first consultation will involve an assessment of your feet. Your foot doctor will inspect your lower limbs and the nature and severity of your ailments. They will take into account the architecture, alignment, look and texture of your feet to make a diagnosis. The assessment stage may also involve a conditioning footbath to clean your feet and help you relax.
Following a diagnosis, your chiropodist will review treatment options. Usually minor foot problems such as verrucas, calluses and corns can be treated straight away. More complicated conditions will require further sessions and possibly additional forms of treatment. A typical session should last between 30 and 60 minutes.
Below we explore chiropody treatment used to tackle some of the most common foot problems and complaints:
Corns and calluses
These are thickened areas of hard or soft skin that are caused by excessive pressure or rubbing. People who wear poorly fitting shoes and/or do a lot of running and walking are more likely to develop corns and calluses. These will usually form on the balls of the foot and the heel. Although gentle rubbing with a pumice stone or foot file can remove superficial areas of hard skin, a chiropodist will tackle the root cause of corns and calluses through orthotic care. Special padding, insoles and strapping will be provided to prevent rubbing and alleviate any pressure on the feet. If the corns and calluses do not respond to chiropody treatment, they may need to be removed with soft tissue surgery.
An ingrowing toenail refers to the way a nail cuts into the skin next to it rather than growing straight. This can cause a lot of pain and inflammation, and can increase the risk of infection. Ingrowing toenails can also make it difficult to walk comfortably. Chiropody treatment involves regular nail trimming and advice on self-care. Appropriate footwear will also be recommended. In some cases, soft tissue surgery will be needed to remove the nail altogether.
This is a common fungal infection that thrives in moist warm areas of the skin - particularly between the toes. Symptoms include itchy, damp and soggy skin, and in some cases cracking, flaking and bleeding. Foot doctors will most likely prescribe special creams, ointments and powders. They will also implement chiropody treatment to tackle any fungus that has spread to the toenails.
Fungal nail infections
Fungal nail infections are caused by the same fungus that triggers athletes foot. Symptoms include nail deformity, discolouration and crumbliness. Chiropody treatment will typically involve oral medication to kill the fungus, and nail cutting to expose the infected nail bed to a lighter, cooler environment. A chiropodist will also advise on appropriate footwear and self-care tips. Sometimes fungal nail infections are caused by injury. This allows the fungus to creep in and multiply under the nail. A foot doctor will provide extra care and treatment for this.
Dry and cracked heels
The skin around the heel tends to be thicker than other parts of the foot. When it becomes too dry and lacking in moisture it can lead to splits and cracking. In some cases the deep fissures will completely break apart and bleed. This can be very painful and uncomfortable. A chiropodist will recommend balms or special creams that contain moisturisers to help. They will also check for infections in open wounds and treat accordingly. Again advice will be given on footwear to prevent the condition from worsening or returning.
Flat feet is where some people’s feet have low arches or no arches at all. It tends to be a hereditary condition, and for some it does not cause any major problems. Others will endure constant pain and discomfort. This is because flat feet can put a strain on muscles and ligaments, causing pain in the legs, the inside of the ankle, and in the knee, hip or back. A chiropodist can teach exercises and provide foot orthotics to ease symptoms.
This is a bone deformity of the joint at the base of the big toes. It is where the big toe points towards the other toes and the foot bone attached to it bulges outwards. While genetics can play a part, wearing poorly fitting shoes over a long period of time can cause bunions. The condition can change the shape of your foot, cause swelling and make walking painful.
A chiropodist will generally treat bunions and toe deformities in the form of foot orthotics. They will suggest wide comfortable footwear made of softer material and will provide insoles to slow down more joint changes and improve foot function. A foot doctor may also consider felt or gel padding to prevent rubbing and will remove any areas of hard skin to aid comfort. In more severe cases, a chiropodist may suggest patients seek surgery to have their bones realigned.
How can you benefit from chiropody?
Many people seek chiropody treatment to alleviate pain and lingering health problems associated with the foot. However, you can choose to have regular sessions with a foot doctor as part of a healthy foot care regime. Even if your feet are generally in good condition, a chiropodist can help to prevent the onset of ailments. They will also keep an eye out for any changes in mobility, foot alignment and architecture.
Chiropody treatment is ideal for those who cannot implement effective self-care of their feet, such as elderly patients and children. Diabetics and patients suffering from rheumatoid arthritis will also benefit from regular treatment. These types of conditions can place the foot at a greater risk of complications that can take longer to heal.
Chiropody on the NHS
It is possible to get chiropody on the NHS but it is typically only available for people with chronic health conditions. According to the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidelines, foot health provision on the NHS can only be offered if you have a long-term health condition such as diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis.
If you have a minor foot problem that is not directly affecting your health or mobility (such as a verruca), it is very unlikely that you will be eligible to get chiropody on the NHS. There are however a number of practitioners who provide chiropody for a reasonable price outside of the NHS.