What’s the difference between a podiatrist and a chiropodist?

Graphic showing Catherine Fletcher-Liddell outside CF Foot Clinic

You would not believe how many times I get asked this.

This is something that often confuses people 1) because they don’t know the difference, or if there is a difference, and 2) because they often can't pronounce Podiatrist, or haven’t heard of one.

The truth is that there isn’t too much difference, if any.

When looking at the dictionary definitions there is a subtle difference.

‘Chiro’ refers to hand and ‘Podo’ to feet. Some definitions of Chiropodist will say that a Chiropodist is a Podiatrist. So where has this confusion come from?

Podiatrists are healthcare professionals who specialise in assessment, diagnosis and treatment of feet, ankle and lower limb conditions. They can treat injuries, help manage foot or ankle problems, and help in the management of long term management of foot related complications from health issues such as diabetes.

In the UK the term Chiropodist has been around for generations, and in fact you trained to be a Chiropodist, if you actually did any training at all. It was not uncommon in the past to have Chiropodists that had undertaken no training at all. The term Podiatrist started to be used around the early 1900’s and is used in most of the world instead of Chiropodist. The UK has been a bit of a late adopter of the name, with Podiatry degrees starting in the 1990’s.

It was often used in the UK to distinguish from ‘State registered’ practitioners who had done a recognised course, and non-state registered practitioners with no recognised qualification.

In 2003 the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) became a regulator of the profession and as such any practitioner using the title Chiropodist or Podiatrist had to register with them and have completed a recognised qualification. Although some practitioners were ‘grandparented’ in due to the length of time practicing. Only practitioners registered with the HCPC can practice in the NHS.

So what is the difference in the name?

Most practitioners who have qualified since the 1990’s will be Podiatrists but may still use the term Chiropodist in advertising.

You will generally find practitioners calling themselves Chiropodists will focus more on the ‘general’ treatments like hard skin, corns, nail care but may expand into other areas and treat everyone, even the medically higher risk people.

Podiatrists do all of this, but will also do more advanced treatments like nail surgery for in-growing nails. Advanced verruca treatments like needling and Swift. Gait analysis and orthoses prescription. Exercise rehabilitation for foot and ankle injuries. Some may even specialise in certain areas of ‘foot care’ and expand into the use of more specialised equipment like shockwave therapy, ultrasound and laser therapy.

Just to confuse matters even more there are also Foot Health Practitioners (FHP) who can treat the feet. They are not regulated by the HCPC and cannot use the name Chiropodist or Podiatrist, though they often do similar work to that of a Chiropodist. Levels of training for FHP’s can vary so it's always best to do your research.

So, who do you see if you have a foot problem?

This will in part depend on what your issue is. A podiatrist is a safe bet for nearly all foot and ankle ailments, though not all podiatrists will treat all conditions.

Check the qualifications and registrations of who you are looking to see, and contact them to see if they can treat your foot issue. If your chosen foot health provider doesn’t treat your condition it's very likely they know someone who can.