What is the difference between a chiropodist and a podiatrist?


The terms “chiropodist” and “podiatrist” often stir confusion, leading many to wonder about the nuances that distinguish these professions. Although used interchangeably in many regions, critical distinctions exist in their scope of practice, qualifications, and the foot care services they provide. This article delves into the historical and modern perspectives, shedding light on these differences and offering clarity to those seeking foot care specialists.

What does a Chiropodist do?

Chiropodists are healthcare professionals who specialize in examining, treating, and preventing diseases and disorders of the foot. Their role primarily focuses on the external aspects of foot care, dealing with skin and nail issues, such as ingrown toenails, calluses, blisters, and fungal infections. They also play a crucial role in managing pain and discomfort from misalignments or common foot problems like flat feet and plantar fasciitis through non-surgical means. Chiropodists often provide advice on foot health and preventive care to avoid future foot ailments. Their practice is geared towards maintaining and improving foot health, offering treatments that include custom orthotic therapy, nail surgery under local anesthesia, and routine foot care, especially for patients with chronic conditions such as diabetes, where proper foot care is essential to prevent complications.

What does a Podiatrist do?

Podiatrists are medical specialists with a broader scope of practice than chiropodists, equipped to diagnose and treat a wide range of foot and ankle conditions. Their expertise extends beyond the external parts of the foot to include treating structural, muscular, and joint issues, encompassing everything from common ailments like bunions and heel spurs to more complex problems requiring surgical intervention. Podiatrists are trained to perform foot and ankle surgeries, such as correcting deformities, repairing injuries, and treating infections that go beyond the superficial layers of the foot. They also manage foot complications arising from chronic diseases like diabetes and arthritis, ensuring comprehensive care that addresses both immediate foot problems and their underlying causes. With their extensive training in the mechanics and dynamics of foot function, podiatrists also specialize in creating custom orthotic devices to correct alignment issues and improve the overall functionality of the foot and lower limb, enhancing mobility and quality of life for their patients.

Historical Context and Evolution

Chiropodist: The Traditional Foot Care Specialist

The term “chiropodist” has roots deeply embedded in the history of English-speaking countries, symbolizing the traditional foot care specialist. Initially, chiropodists were the go-to professionals for non-surgical foot ailments, focusing on the skin, nails, and minor foot and ankle disorders. Their role encompassed treating conditions like ingrown toenails, calluses, and minor infections, with their practice grounded in the external aspects of foot health.

Podiatrist: A Step Towards Modernization

As the medical field evolved, so did the understanding and treatment of foot-related conditions. This evolution gave rise to the term “podiatrist,” signaling a shift towards a more comprehensive approach to foot care. In many countries, including the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom, “podiatrist” has become the predominant title, reflecting a broader scope of practice that not only includes the traditional treatments of a chiropodist but also encompasses diagnosing and treating complex foot and ankle conditions, performing surgeries, and addressing structural issues.

Critical Differences Between Chiropodists and Podiatrists

Understanding the distinctions between chiropodists and podiatrists is crucial for anyone seeking foot care, as the choice between these professionals depends on the specific needs and conditions of the patient. Here are the main points that highlight the differences:

1. Scope of Practice:

  • Chiropodists: Traditionally focus on non-surgical treatments, dealing primarily with skin and nail issues, minor infections, and superficial foot and ankle disorders.
  • Podiatrists: Have a broader scope that includes the chiropodist’s realm of care, diagnosing and treating more complex foot and ankle conditions, performing foot and ankle surgeries, and managing foot problems related to underlying medical conditions like diabetes.

2. Qualifications and Training:

  • Chiropodists: Their education usually involves completing a specialized program in chiropody, focusing on the external care of the foot, including treating common ailments such as ingrown toenails, calluses, and fungal infections.
  • Podiatrists Require a more extensive educational background, often needing to complete a Doctor of Podiatric Medicine (DPM) degree, followed by residency training. This comprehensive education prepares them for various treatments, including surgical interventions.

3. Regulation and Title Use:

  • Varies by Country: In some countries, the title “chiropodist” and “podiatrist” are used interchangeably, while in others, the title “podiatrist” is legally protected and denotes a higher level of training and scope of practice. Always check local regulations to understand the specific distinctions and qualifications required.

4. Treatment Approaches:

  • Chiropodists Often employ conservative treatment methods focusing on relief from discomfort and preventing minor foot ailments.
  • Podiatrists: While also skilled in conservative treatments, they can offer surgical options for correcting structural issues, treating severe injuries, and addressing complex foot and ankle diseases.

5. Areas of Specialization:

  • Chiropodists: May specialize in specific non-surgical interventions, such as orthotic therapy, nail surgery under local anesthesia, and diabetic foot care.
  • Podiatrists: Can further specialize in podiatry, focusing on sports medicine, pediatric foot care, diabetic care, and surgical reconstruction of the foot and ankle.

Understanding these differences is essential for patients to make informed decisions regarding their foot healthcare provider based on their specific health needs and the complexity of their foot or ankle condition.

Navigating the Choice Between Chiropodist and Podiatrist

Understanding Your Needs

When seeking foot care, the choice between a chiropodist and a podiatrist should be informed by the nature of your condition and the type of treatment you require. A chiropodist may be well-suited to provide effective treatment for minor, non-surgical issues. However, consulting a podiatrist is advisable for more complex conditions or when surgery is a consideration.

The Importance of Research

It’s crucial to research and understand your country’s specific regulations and definitions to make an informed decision. With the landscape of foot care continuously evolving, staying knowledgeable about the qualifications and scopes of practice of both chiropodists and podiatrists will ensure that you seek the right professional for your needs.


While nuanced, the distinction between chiropodists and podiatrists is significant for those needing specialized foot care. Patients can make informed decisions about their foot health by understanding the historical context, scope of practice, qualifications, and regulatory frameworks that define these professions. Whether you choose a chiropodist or podiatrist, finding a qualified professional to address your foot care needs is the most critical factor.

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