The foot and ankle area is one of the more complex areas of the human skeletal system, and becoming an expert in this part of the body requires years of training, education, and practice. It is important to know the difference between a podiatrist and an orthopedic surgeon who specializes in foot and ankle if you are seeking care for a foot or ankle problem.
The primary and most important difference is the level of training each completes. Any orthopaedic surgeon must complete 4 years of medical school and a 5-6 year orthopaedic surgery residency. After that, a foot and ankle fellowship consists of a year-long full-time job working alongside a seasoned orthopaedic foot and ankle specialist. Altogether, a foot and ankle surgeon will have 10+ years of training.
Podiatrists attend podiatry school for four years followed by a 2-3 year residency. Altogether, a podiatrist will have 6-7 years of training.
Podiatrists typically treat ingrown toenails, calluses, flat feet, heel spurs, and some common foot and ankle injuries. They can provide important treatment for foot problems related to diabetes and other systemic illnesses.
Orthopedists also treat heel spurs, flat feet, foot deformities, and injuries, but are also trained to manage the full spectrum of problems involving the bones, muscles, tendons, ligaments, and soft tissues of the foot, ankle, and lower leg. An orthopedic surgeon intimately understands the impact that the entire body can have on a foot and ankle condition. They also spend a great portion of their training working in large trauma centers and caring for extremely complex injuries and other medical problems. Your orthopaedic surgeon is equipped to determine the root of your problem and prescribe medications, physical therapy, bracing, or surgery to correct the problem.
Some people believe that podiatrists are for non-surgical intervention and that you only see a foot and ankle surgeon for surgery. While this is an easy misconception to make based on the names, some podiatrists do surgery and all foot and ankle surgeons will try non-surgical treatment first if they believe it could be successful and that is the patient’s preference.
The bottom line? While orthopaedic surgeons and podiatrists both may treat foot and ankle problems, the orthopaedic foot and ankle surgeon is qualified to address a more complex level of problems. Orthopaedic surgeons will have the medical doctor (MD) credential and podiatrists will have the doctor of podiatric medicine (DPM) credential.
Call (402) 609-3000 for an appointment with a foot and ankle orthopaedic surgeon.