A Guide to Knowing When to See a Podiatrist vs. an Orthopedist
Navigating the murky waters of healthcare can be tricky at best. So, when you find yourself with a foot or ankle injury, you may be unsure as to what type of specialist you need to consult for proper treatment. When you think muscles and bones, you may tend to think of an orthopedic physician. However, if it has to do with your foot, a visit to a podiatrist might be more appropriate. This then begs the question: Which one should I choose?
Thankfully, we’re here to help you decide. Let’s take a look at some of the similarities and differences between orthopedists and podiatrists so you know where to go.
Podiatrist vs. Orthopedist
According to the American Association of Colleges of Podiatric Medicine (AACPM), a podiatrist—also known as a podiatric surgeon, Doctor of Podiatric Medicine (DPM) or, less formally, foot doctor— is a fully qualified physician who diagnoses and treats conditions affecting the foot, ankle and related structures of the leg.
An orthopedist—also known as an orthopedic surgeon—is a physician who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of the entire musculoskeletal system, including:
- Spine and neck
- Shoulders, arms and hands
- Hips and legs
- Feet and ankles
Schooling and Training
In terms of schooling, both professionals are basically on par with one another.
A podiatrist must complete:
- Four years of post-undergraduate training from a podiatric medical school;
- Three to four years of residency training and;
- May also complete an additional one-year fellowship in a subspecialty, such as pediatrics or sports medicine.
Additionally, podiatrists can also be board certified by the American Board of Foot and Ankle Surgery (ABFAS) or the American Board of Podiatric Medicine (ABPM).
An orthopedist must complete the same amount of training but at a nonspecific medical school. They may also be fellowship-trained in a variety of subspecialties and may be board certified by the American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery (ABOS) or the American Board of Physician Specialties (ABPS).
Though both orthopedists and podiatrists are more than qualified to treat your foot or ankle injury, what you need to consider is that podiatry solely focuses on the foot, ankle and related structures. This is an important point when you realize that the foot and ankle are made up of a complex network consisting of:
- 26 bones
- 33 joints
- Over 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments
Would you want a specialist that knows the intricacies of those particular structures inside and out, or would you prefer someone who manages issues with these things for the body as a whole?
Another point to consider: Not only does a podiatrist deal exclusively with the structures of the foot’s musculoskeletal system, but they also manage the treatment of the skin and nails of the feet and ankles, such as ingrown toenails, wounds and diabetic care. They are also specialized in the biomechanics and balance of the foot. That means they are capable of creating orthotics and braces that may correct a condition rather than relying on surgery to fix it.
The Bottom Line
At the end of the day, both specialists are capable of treating you if the problem is related to bones, tendons, muscles and/or ligaments. However, if the problem lies within the foot, ankle and parts of the lower limbs a podiatrist may be more specialized in those treatments. You may receive a recommendation from your primary care physician about which one to see, but it’s still important to know the difference in order to make an informed decision about your care and health.
To schedule a consultation with one of our podiatric specialists, contact us today.