Most of us take our feet for granted. In fact, the American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA) finds, “Foot care continues to fall behind heart, eye, teeth, skin care, and nutrition.” But, think about this, the average adult will walk around 1,200 miles a year, and nearly 75,000 miles in their lifetime. That’s the equivalent of walking around the Earth 3 times! Add to that, the fact that our feet are amazingly complex, comprising 26 bones and 30 joints. All of that use, combined with the foot’s structural complexity, can lead to the development of injuries and general problems over time. Indeed, the American Podiatric Medical Association reports 77 percent of Americans ages 18 and older have experienced foot problems in their lifetime.
In order to understand more about how the health of our feet and ankles affects our overall health and wellbeing, as well as the ways in which a Podiatrist works to maintain and support the health and wellbeing of their patient's feet and ankles, we spoke with Ellen Barton, DPM, Podiatrist at Door County Medical Center.
What role does a Podiatrist play in a person’s overall health?
“A Podiatrist’s role is focused on the foot and ankle—on treating direct injuries to that area, such as ankle sprains, fractures, and heel pain” Dr. Barton relates. “However,” she adds, “a Podiatrist’s practice extends beyond musculoskeletal concerns and into other aspects of foot and ankle health, such as skin conditions and nail concerns like toenail fungus. Also, a good portion of my focus extends to the way systemic conditions—diabetes and arthritis, for instance—affect the foot.”
“Every Podiatrist works differently,” she continues. “I take an individualized approach to medicine—in other words, each patient requires an individual evaluation because what works well for one patient may not help another. It’s important to take the time to get to know the patient and determine what treatment plan will work best based on their preferences. So, for example, I’ll take into account a patient’s level of activity, family involvement, medical history and specific goals when creating their unique treatment plan.”
“Some patients may prefer a more aggressive approach to treatment that would allow a quicker return to sports and activity. Others would rather take a more a conservative approach for the same issue. In a way,” Dr. Barton comments, “I think of the patient as the captain of a team with myself as the coach. I want to learn about what they want—what their goals are. And, if the captain wants to win a championship, then as coach it’s my job to get them there.”
Why is foot and ankle health important?
Your feet and ankles provide the foundation—literally and figuratively—to your life. A healthy and active life starts, in part, with healthy feet and ankles. “Injuries of the foot and ankle, as well as pain of any type, can be very difficult for people to handle,” says Dr. Barton, adding, “It limits their ability to move and it limits their ability to be active both in life and in the community. For this reason,” she continues, “maintaining good foot and ankle health is an integral part of maintaining a person’s mobility and independence.”
If left untreated, an injury to the foot or ankle can lead to additional systemic health issues beyond the foot and ankle. For example, the loss of mobility that comes with foot or ankle pain means you’re less likely to be physically active. Over the long term, this can raise your risk of gaining weight and developing chronic conditions like heart disease and diabetes. Long-term loss of mobility can also result in a loss of endurance and muscle mass.
“Conversely,” Dr. Barton notes, “issues with one’s overall health can present in the feet. Circulatory problems are frequent, but perhaps the most common example,” she continues, “is diabetes.”
According to the CDC, about half of all people living with diabetes have nerve damage—numbness, tingling or pain that commonly occurs in the feet. Nerve damage, along with poor circulation, increases the odds that a person who has diabetes will develop a foot ulcer that could get infected. If an infection doesn’t get better after being properly treated, this may result in the need for a toe, or foot, or even a portion of the leg, to be amputated. Dr. Barton recommends that, “people living with diabetes have their feet examined by a professional at least once a year to monitor and check for changes in sensation and blood flow to their feet.”
What advice would you give someone about maintaining foot and ankle health?
“I would recommend 3 things to someone for general foot and ankle health,” Dr. Barton says. “First, daily stretching helps prevent things like Achilles tendon injuries and plantar fasciitis; second, daily moisturization reduces the risk of developing cracks and ulcers; third, quality shoe gear will support and protect your feet and can reduce the likelihood of developing plantar fasciitis and tendon injuries. These quick steps can be impactful and help prevent office visits.”
“I enjoy creating relationships with my patients,” Dr. Barton remarks, adding, “It’s rewarding to help someone through a difficult time and help them get back towards their goals. Healing foot and ankle injuries often means the patient will spend time on crutches or in a wheelchair—sometimes for months. The best part of my job as a Podiatrist is when a patient finally comes back for a follow-up appointment and walks through my doors without help and without pain. And,” she continues, “at the end of a good long day, it’s always my hope that a couple of people leave the clinic feeling better and moving a little bit quicker—that’s my goal.
Dr. Barton provides conservative and surgical treatment for any ailment that involves a patient’s foot or ankle. She received her Bachelor of Science degree from Marquette University in Milwaukee in 2014, completed her podiatry training at the College of Podiatric Medicine and Surgery at Des Moines University in Iowa in 2018. In 2021, Dr. Barton finished her residency at Gundersen Health Systems in La Crosse, Wisconsin, where she served as Chief Resident. To schedule an appointment with Dr. Barton please visit Door County Medical Center’s Door Orthopedic Center by clicking here, or calling (920)746-0510.