Diagnosing Your Foot Injury: When to See a Doctor

You’re on your feet all day, so it can be incredibly painful – and frustrating – to suffer any type of foot injury. Like with any other orthopedic injury, knowing when to see a doctor for your pain can be unclear. Should you just rest, ice and elevate? Should you schedule an appointment with your regular doctor or find a foot specialist? Or, in extreme cases, do you wait for an appointment or head straight to the Emergency Room?

To make your decision even more complicated, when it comes to feet, there are plenty of parts that could be sprained, fractured or broken. That’s because the foot is a complex system containing 26 bones, 33 joints and more than 100 muscles, tendons, ligaments and nerves.

What is a foot specialist called?

If you’ve injured your foot badly enough to see a doctor, you’re better off going to a foot specialist than to your general practitioner. As mentioned above, the foot is a complicated structure that requires specialized knowledge for proper diagnosis and treatment.

When searching for a foot specialist, you have two options: a podiatrist and an orthopedic foot surgeon.

The differences between a podiatrist and an orthopedic foot surgeon vary from doctor to doctor, but both are orthopedic foot specialists that can diagnose, treat and surgically repair your injured foot, if necessary. Education-wise, podiatrists spend three to four years in a foot and ankle specific residency after medical school and orthopedic surgeons spend five years in a generalized orthopedic surgical residency with an option to do an additional year focused solely on the foot and ankle.

When to See a Podiatrist or Orthopedic Foot Surgeon

If you’re experiencing mild pain but are able to manage your everyday activities, your foot injury will most likely heal itself with time and rest.

When to See a Doctor for Your Foot Injury

  • You’re still feeling pain in your foot two to three weeks after your injury
  • You have persistent swelling that hasn’t gotten better two to five days after your injury
  • You have pain in both feet
  • You have diabetes
  • Have a burning pain, tingling or numbness – especially involving most or the bottom of your foot

Tingling and numbness are signs that you have damaged the nerves in your foot, which can lead to a chronic condition called peripheral neuropathy.

When to Seek Immediate Medical Attention for Your Foot Injury

  • You’re unable to walk or put weight on your foot
  • You have severe pain and/or swelling
  • Your foot is visibly disformed or broken
  • You have an open wound or your foot is oozing pus
  • You have signs of infection (tenderness, redness, warmth around the injury and/or a fever over 100°F
  • You have diabetes and have a wound that isn’t healing and/or shows signs of infection

Common Foot Injuries

As mentioned before, the foot is an incredibly complex system of bones, joints, muscles, tendons, ligaments and nerves – all of which are vulnerable to injury. The following are some of the most common foot injuries podiatrists and orthopedic foot surgeons treat.

Ultimately, it’s always best to err on the side of caution when it comes to your feet. If you think you might need to see a foot specialist for your foot pain, odds are you should. Self-diagnosis and treatment (even after reading the entire internet) might not be enough to get you back on your feet, pain-free.

If you have questions about your foot pain or foot injury and would like to talk to a podiatrist, please feel free to contact us. Dr. Jason Dickson, our podiatrist who is based in Salt Lake City, Utah, can answer any questions you may have.

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