#Feetmatter - Podiatrists help keep us healthy and moving

7 OCTOBER 2020

#Feetmatter - Podiatrists help keep us healthy and moving

International Podiatry Day on Thursday 8 October highlights career opportunities as demand for podiatrists and podiatry services will grow.

  • International Podiatry Day is Thursday 8 October
  • Podiatry deals with the prevention, diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation of medical and surgical conditions of the feet and lower limbs (Australian Podiatry Association)
  • Podiatrists are ‘foot doctors’, allied health professionals who specialise in foot and lower limb health

With International Podiatry Day on Thursday 8 October, a Charles Sturt University expert highlights demand for podiatry services is forecast to increase and the number of people working as podiatrists is expected to grow.

Associate Professor Caroline Robinson (pictured, inset above), Discipline Lead in Podiatry in the Charles Sturt School of Community Health in Albury-Wodonga said, “The word ‘podiatrist’ derives from Greek; ‘pod’ - foot, and ‘iatros’ – physician.

“Podiatrists are ‘foot doctors’, allied health professionals who specialise in foot and lower limb health.

“The profession of podiatry has a very long history, dating back to early Greece around 2400 BC and podiatrists continue to be essential members of the healthcare team in countries across the world.”

Professor Robinson noted that, according to the Australian Health Ministers’ Advisory Council (2017), a focus on prevention through adequate provision of podiatry services ‘can significantly reduce the volume and severity of chronic conditions and provide long-term cost savings and better health outcomes’.

“Demand for podiatry services is forecast to increase until the 2050s due to the increasing burden of chronic disease and an ageing population, and the number of people working as podiatrists is expected to grow strongly over the next few years,” Professor Robinson said.

“This is particularly so in regional, rural and remote locations where there is an increasingly higher prevalence of chronic illness.”

Professor Robinson explained podiatrists specialise in foot and lower limb health and, as such, have a key role in primary healthcare in maintaining mobility, physical activity and independence for people of all ages.

“Keeping people active and mobile across their lifespan is essential to good health and wellbeing, to reduce the risk of chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and obesity, and premature death,” she said.

“Podiatry is essential to enable healthy ageing of the Australian population, keeping older people active and mobile, because mobility for an older person is paramount to maintaining their dignity and vital to enhancing their quality of life.

“Podiatrists focus on alleviating foot pain in order to keep people walking, and regular podiatry care is an essential aspect of falls prevention for older people.”

Professor Robinson said keeping physically active and maintaining mobility and independence is key to the health and wellbeing of people of all ages.

“A podiatrist’s expertise in foot health can make all the difference enabling a person to be active, participate in exercise, maintain fitness, and reduce the risk of ill health,” she said.

“Podiatrists are able to diagnose and treat any complications which affect the foot and lower limb, providing care for people of all ages and treating a broad range of conditions.”

Professor Robinson said examples of these conditions include: assessing a child walking and providing corrective orthoses (insoles) to help reduce them tripping over; rehabilitating a runner with Achilles tendon damage; performing surgery under local anaesthesia for a teenager with an ingrown toenail; prescribing antibiotics to treat infected wounds in people with diabetes, to prevent amputation; treating a painful corn to allow an older person to walk comfortably.

“Podiatrists are skilled in assessing foot and leg mechanics, and may use computer technology for assessing a person’s walking and running, assessment of posture, and analysis of increased pressure and loading on the foot,” Professor Robinson said.

“Furthermore, podiatrists have an important role to play in achieving equality in life expectancy and closing the gap in life expectancy for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples because they live with an excessive burden of type-2 diabetes and are six times more likely to be hospitalised and die as a result of diabetes complications, as compared to non-Indigenous Australians.”

Professor Robinson noted that one important example of how podiatrists play a key role in managing chronic disease is diabetes-related lower limb complications.

“Podiatrists have a key role in the diagnosis of circulation problems (peripheral vascular disease) and loss of feeling (neuropathy), affecting the feet and legs,” she said.

“Poor circulation and the inability to feel pain, place a person at great risk of foot injury, ulcer formation and limb amputation.

“Podiatrists work proactively to prevent foot ulceration but also manage patients with active ulceration to prevent infection and limb amputation, maintain mobility and independence, and positively impact quality of life.”

In line with National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) recommendations, people at risk of diabetic foot disease require between two to 12 clinical podiatry consultations per year as part of an evidence-based foot disease protection program.

“If people have any concerns about their feet, make an appointment to see a local podiatrist,” Professor Robinson said.

Media Note:

To arrange interviews with Associate Professor Caroline Robinson, contact Bruce Andrews at Charles Sturt Media on mobile 0418 669 362 or via news@csu.edu.au

In 2017, the daily burden of diabetes-related foot disease (DFD) in Australia was estimated (Van Netten JJ et.al, 2017) as:

  • 300,000 people at-risk of developing DFD
  • 50,000 people living with DFD
  • 12,500 people living with a diabetes-related amputation
  • 1,000 people in hospital because of DFD (27,600 hospitalisations each year)
  • 12 people undergoing a diabetes-related amputation (4,400 amputations each year)
  • 4 people dying because of DFD (1,700 deaths each year)
  • $4 million spent directly managing DFD ($1.6 billion spent each year)

In Australia, podiatry is one of 15 allied health disciplines regulated by the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) in partnership with the Podiatry Board of Australia. The primary role of these governing bodies is to protect the public, but the Podiatry Board is also responsible for registering practitioners and students.

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