By Rehan Iqbal
A general care provider can look at your feet and provide general care for minor problems. If you have a more serious foot problem or an issue that doesn’t respond well to initial treatment, you need to visit a doctor specialized in caring for the feet.
There are generally two types of foot doctors: podiatrists and orthopedic surgeons. While both can treat a wide variety of foot problems, there are some key differences that will determine which one is most appropriate for your care at any given time.
Who is a Foot Doctor?
When you think about seeing a foot doctor, you’re most likely interested in visiting a podiatrist. A podiatrist goes through medical school with a focus on treating the feet, ankles, and body parts or conditions that may impact those areas. They learn how to care for specific conditions that impact the joints, bones, and soft tissues of these two body parts along with some general medical training.
Just as a cardiac doctor has specialized training in caring for the heart, a podiatrist has specialized training in caring for the feet and ankles. The knowledge they have goes deeper than a primary care physician who hasn’t received specialized foot care training.
Podiatrists can further specialize their practice by obtaining additional training in a sub-specialty. Some of the most common sub-specialties include:
Podiatrist vs. Orthopedist – What’s the Difference?
An orthopedist or orthopedic specialist is another foot doctor option, but they have different expertise than a podiatrist. Rather than studying the feet and ankles directly, an orthopedic doctor studies the musculoskeletal system. They are the experts when it comes to controlling joint and muscle pain throughout the body, and some go through an extra year of training to specialize in the feet and ankles.
You may see these professionals referred to as orthopedic surgeons, but they do much more than provide surgical interventions. They have the training needed to diagnose, treat, and rehabilitate some of the more painful chronic or severe conditions that can affect the feet and ankles.
There is some overlap in the conditions that podiatrists and orthopedic physicians can treat. Let’s look at some of those conditions next to help you determine the right type of foot doctor for your feet and ankles.
What Conditions Does a Podiatrist Treat?
What Conditions Does an Orthopedist Treat?
What Does it Cost to See a Foot Doctor?
According to MDSave, the estimated national average for a podiatrist visit is $314. That rate is for an established patient, so you may pay a bit more for your first visit. The estimated national average for a new patient to see an orthopedic specialist is $386. Depending on what services are delivered, costs can exceed $500 for one visit.
Most foot doctors will accept some medical insurance policies. If you have insurance but are limited to a provider network, check with your insurance company to see what local podiatrists or orthopedic specialists are in the network.
If you don’t have a network or are willing to pay higher rates to see a foot doctor, you can research leading foot specialists in your area. Most foot doctors are associated with larger medical practices, which have detailed websites. Those websites should include information regarding the insurance they accept and forms of payment for uninsured patients.
Some foot doctors operate private practices to serve their community independently. Those practices are generally smaller and may not have updated websites to provide payment information. You can call them to see if they accept your insurance or to request rates if you’re paying out of pocket.
When to See a Foot Doctor?
Most people schedule their first appointment with a foot doctor when they encounter a problem that their primary care physician cannot handle effectively. Most primary care physicians will refer patients directly to a podiatrist or orthopedic specialist when they need more advanced care for the feet and ankles.
You may also seek care from a foot doctor on your own. Patients often seek out their own care providers for specific problems when they don’t have insurance or have high deductibles to meet before their insurance will contribute. Many foot doctors will schedule an initial appointment to see what type of care is needed if they don’t have information from a referring doctor.
Some of the most common reasons for seeing a foot doctor include the following:
In general, you may want to see a foot doctor anytime you have an issue with your feet or ankles that isn’t cured with over-the-counter medication. If you’ve been dealing with extremely itchy feet or pain in your lower extremities for weeks or months, it’s time to see a doctor with specialized training to diagnose and treat problems in the feet and ankles.
Is it Better to See a Podiatrist or Orthopedist?
Unless you know that you need to see an orthopedic physician, it’s often cheaper to start with a podiatrist. Most podiatrists are highly skilled when it comes to initial diagnosis and effective care for a wide variety of conditions that affect the feet and ankles. They can handle most problems and may even perform surgery if needed.
If your issues involve the musculoskeletal system, you may decide that an orthopedic specialist is the best pick from the start. Talking to your primary care provider can help you make that determination, or you can simply call an orthopedist in your area to schedule an initial appointment. All foot doctors will refer you to someone else if they believe you are better served by a professional with different training.
What to Expect When Seeing a Foot Doctor
Your first visit with a foot doctor will go much like your first visit with any other type of doctor. They will listen to you explain what problems you’re experiencing and will follow up with questions to help them fully understand your concerns. Most will also take a complete medical history to understand any other medical conditions that may have an impact on your feet and ankles.
Your foot doctor may need to order tests or perform in-office testing to help diagnose your problem with confidence. You may receive a diagnosis the same day or may have to wait until test results are received from a laboratory. Some conditions like athlete’s foot are much easier and faster to diagnose than severe or chronic medical conditions.
What’s important right now is that you take the first step to contact a foot doctor. The longer you wait, the more difficult your treatment may become.