The foot is one of the most complex parts of the skeletal system. With 26 bones, 33 joints, and 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments, the foot is home to about 25% of all bones in the human body!
If you have a problem with your foot or ankle, you may be wondering who you should see. Both podiatrists and orthopedic surgeons specialize in the foot and ankle. So what’s the difference between them, and how do you determine which doctor is most qualified to help?
First, let’s break down the basics.
What’s the difference?
- Orthopedic surgeons are medical doctors. That means they have completed 4 years of medical school, a 5-6 year residency in orthopedic surgery, and another year of subspecialty fellowship training (e.g. ankle and foot training)
- Orthopedic surgeons have a deeper and more comprehensive understanding of the entire body, and how overall health impacts the foot and ankle, and vice versa
- They are qualified to take on more complex levels of problems
- Podiatrists are not medical doctors, but attend podiatry school and complete a residency
- While the orthopedic surgeon can treat all bones, joints and soft tissues of the body, the podiatrist focuses specifically on the foot and ankle. From day one of podiatric medical school and through residency, their emphasis is on this area.
- Podiatrists manage the bones, soft tissues and joints of the foot and ankle, but also the dermatology and mechanics of the area.
How to Choose?
Who you choose to see will depend on your condition. In theory, both specialists should be trained with similar principles and utilize the same equipment to accomplish the repair. However, in general, when it comes to specific treatments of the foot and ankle, it may be best to first consult with a podiatrist. Podiatrists are more highly specialized in treating this particular area, whereas the general orthopedist also focuses on managing the hips, knees and shoulders.
Some of the conditions more commonly treated by podiatrists include:
- Ingrown toenails
- Fallen arches
- Heel spurs
- Deformities of the feet
- Common foot and ankle injuries
- Foot problems related to diabetes and other chronic illnesses
Orthopedic surgeons can treat all of the above, but are trained to manage a wider spectrum of problems involving the entire skeletal system, and muscles, tendons, and tissues of the legs and arms. So for localized problems of the foot or ankle, it might not be necessary to see an orthopedic surgeon.
Both podiatrists and orthopedic surgeons are qualified to treat foot and ankle conditions, surgically and non-surgically. In general, the best bet is to choose the doctor you feel the most comfortable with, or who has the most experience treating your particular condition.
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