Put Your Best Foot Forward
By Amber Erickson Gabbey
Boulder County is one of the country’s healthiest and most active areas. In a place with limitless access to year-round adventure and recreation, being sidelined by foot or ankle pain is just not an option. From a seemingly minor toenail fungus to fractures, a podiatrist can help get you back on your feet.
“Most people take their feet for granted, but in order to maintain an active lifestyle, you need to take care of them yourself,” says Dr. Tara Parks, a podiatrist at Boulder Medical Center.
Common Ailments Podiatrists Treat
Corns and calluses
Arch problems, like flat feet
Achilles tendon strains or tears
Diabetic wound care
Conditions needing orthotics and bracing
What Podiatrists Do
A podiatrist, or “healer of the foot,” treats pain, injury or deformity—both acute and chronic—below the knee. Podiatrists are licensed physicians and surgeons who specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of ailments of the lower extremities, including the lower leg, ankle, foot and toes. To become licensed, a doctor of podiatric medicine (D.P.M.) must first complete a bachelor’s degree, then pass the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), undergo interviews and be accepted into a podiatric medical school. After completing four years of medical education and passing the board exams, they are required to complete a two-to-three-year residency. After residency, they may choose to complete the certification process to become a podiatric surgeon.
When to See a Podiatrist
“Pain is not normal,” says Tom Shonka, D.P.M., a podiatrist at Foot and Ankle Care of Boulder County. So any time you have pain or discomfort in the foot or ankle, you should see a podiatrist to help keep you moving.”
“Pain, especially in the foot or ankle, is probably negatively impacting your life and you shouldn’t ignore that,” adds Brian Gradisek, D.P.M., also a podiatrist at Foot and Ankle Care of Boulder County. Even a pain or injury that seems minor, like a callus or ingrown toenail, should be checked out. A callus can easily get infected; a stubbed toe could be broken. Nothing can turn into something very quickly.
But sometimes it’s not obvious whether you need a podiatrist, another specialist or your primary-care physician. “Some conditions we see do overlap with other specialists—like skin issues and dermatology,“ says Parks. “But in a nutshell, if you have pain in your foot or ankle, or have any concerns about your feet, it’s best to start with a podiatrist.”
The reason is that while other health professionals may be qualified to help with your issue, podiatrists have specialized training for the feet and ankles. All podiatrists start their medical education broadly, much like M.D.’s and D.O.’s, but they specialize earlier, bringing highly specific experience and expertise to patients.
As a patient, this means you have more treatment options and opportunity to get better, quickly. For the podiatrist, it means a fulfilling practice of helping people stay active. “It’s a pretty rare day when I’m not looking forward to coming to work, even after 36 years,” Shonka says. “We really affect people’s lives,” adds Gradisek. “It’s extremely rewarding. It’s amazing all the things we can do and the impact we have on fixing people.”
So whether it’s pain, injury or discomfort keeping you from enjoying all that life has to offer, visit your local podiatrist and get it checked out.
Did You Know?
Ingrown toenails are completely treatable. A new treatment can permanently kill a small part of the nail, preventing an ingrown toenail. “So many people have been dealing with ingrown toenails for their whole life, and they don’t have to suffer with the pain,” says Tara Parks., D.P.M.
If you think you have plantar fasciitis, don’t delay in visiting a podiatrist. “Plantar fasciitis is one condition I wish I would see sooner,” says Parks. “I treat many patients for it, but I think it’s the one condition where people suffer for way too long before coming in.” Plantar fasciitis is treatable, but it does take a long time. “As long as you’ve suffered, it takes longer to heal,” she says, so don’t wait.
Having a podiatrist is of enhanced importance for diabetics, especially those with a history of neuropathy, because an injury or wound could cause them to lose a leg. If you are diabetic, be sure to check your feet daily and call a podiatrist immediately if you’re experiencing pain or numbness in your legs or feet.
Author Amber Erickson Gabbey, M.A., RYT, is a yoga teacher, content marketer and freelance writer (www.mindfullywritten.com). She lives in Rollinsville.