As podiatrists, we tend to think of ourselves as generalists who treat all kinds of foot ailments. We also tend to think of ourselves as specialists who have dedicated and focused expertise in the diseases of the foot.
As podopediatricians, we offer our patients and the many colleagues who might refer them to us the twin benefits of a foot generalist and a pediatric specialist. As generalists, we can handle any and all pediatric foot problems with unique expertise. As pediatric specialists, we can offer one-of-a-kind evaluation and management of complex pedal pathology in this patient population.
As podopediatricans, we can guide the child’s foot to help ensure optimum development into adulthood. This preventative opportunity to help the child’s foot develop as normally as possible into a pain-free adult foot is one of the most gratifying and meaningful roles we can play as clinicians. If young feet receive proper care and attention, we can improve the odds that these future adults will avoid lifestyle altering disability and dysfunction as progressive deformities collide with aging bodies.
As a profession and as individuals, we must make a greater effort to get this message out to pediatricians, parents and the public. I often tell students and other lecture audiences that I only see a small percentage of those children who would benefit from my services. For every child I see with a foot or gait abnormality, there are dozens more who never get referred to one of us.
There are many reasons for this disparity. One reason is ignorance on the part of many medical specialists about podiatric medicine as a resource for children. Another is the common misconception that if it does not hurt yet, there is no problem. The skilled podiatrist evaluating a child can identify a foot or lower extremity posture that is at risk to progress and develop symptoms over time. With the burgeoning numbers of children participating in organized sports at younger and younger ages, these are priceless opportunities to “optimize” a child’s foot for the demands and rigors of sport so as to prevent or reduce the risk of injury.
With the average life expectancy increasing all the time, the feet of today’s children have to serve them well as increasingly active adults are living long past retirement age.
Take time to get the word out. Reach out to pediatricians with information, consultation reports on their patients, advice and other services. Speak to groups of parents and work with other health care providers such as physical and occupational therapists and pedorthists, who also serve pediatric patients. Write for lay publications and community newsletters to inform the readership.
When parents know you are there and what you can offer, the pediatric patients will come. Then you can do your part.