A high percentage of the population — at least three-fourths — will have foot problems of some kind during their lives. But athletes often experience foot pain and injury at a much higher rate than the general populace. One important, but often overlooked, aspect of an athlete’s team of medical professionals is a sports podiatrist. Here’s a little more you should know about these practitioners:
What Does a Sports Podiatrist Do?
Just like all podiatrists, a sports podiatrist is doctor specializing in lower limb function — essentially, a foot and ankle doctor. So why seek out a sports podiatrist, rather than your regular local podiatrist? The first reason is that sports podiatrists deal with injuries common in athletes, and may be more familiar with something like tendonitis treatment than a doctor who works primarily on corns or ingrown toenails.
They’re also more likely to diagnose sports-related injuries quickly, since athletes in certain sports often have injuries in common. A stress fracture in foot or ankle bones, for example, is often caused by sports that include repeated jumping or striking of the ground (distance running, tennis, basketball, track, gymnastics and dance are all high-risk sports for this kind of injury). While all podiatrists will have a basic knowledge of an injury like a stress fracture, they may not realize the relevance of that knowledge to an athlete’s case as quickly as a podiatrist who specializes in sports.
What Treatments Does a Sports Podiatrist Offer?
Like all sports medicine practitioners, podiatrists within this specialty understand the drive athletes have to repair an injury and get back on the field, track, court or rink as soon as possible. This means that they’ll often find ways to treat without requiring extensive downtime. (However, it’s important for athletes to take rest guidelines seriously in order to prevent further damage.)
In addition to providing treatment for acute injuries, podiatrists may also address chronic conditions such as tendonitis or plantar fasciitis. This might include a combination of custom orthotics, a regular exercise regimen or a number of other strategies.
Are Treatments Only Intended to Rehab Injury?
While sports podiatrists do tend to focus on getting athletes back on their feet as soon as possible, they can also offer preventive treatment and training advice. For example, a sports podiatrist would be the best person to assess an adolescent girl’s feet to see if she’s ready to start pointe classes in ballet, or to give a runner advice on shoes to prevent future injuries from flat feet.
Some sports podiatrists may also be experts in biomechanical analysis. Essentially, this involves looking at how function in each structure and joint contributes to overall function. A biomechanical consultation might give an athlete a better idea of how to run faster, jump higher or meet any other movement-related goal.
What other questions do you have about the field of sports podiatry? Join the discussion in the comments.