By Rehan Iqbal
Podiatry and orthopedic surgery have a lot in common. Orthopedic surgeons and podiatrists must attend college or university and medical school, complete a residency and pass a process of licensing and board certification. Many times podiatrists and orthopedic surgeons work together in group practices and in hospital settings. In this article, we explore the differences between orthopedists and podiatrists. Read on to learn more.
Orthopedists And Podiatrists Treat Different Body Systems
Orthopedists deal with the joints, bones, ligaments and muscles of the entire body. They are doctors and surgeons of joints and bones.
Podiatrists focus on feet and ankles. Their education and their work deals entirely with the joints, bones, ligaments and muscles of the feet and ankles. They are also experts regarding the nerves, blood vessels and skin of the feet and ankles.
A podiatrist is qualified to work as an orthopedic surgeon would when it comes to injuries and conditions of the feet and ankles, and he or she can also perform the same sorts of services and procedures as those of a dermatologist, neurosurgeon or plastic surgeon in regards to problems of the feet and ankles.
It’s easy to see that the work of these two types of specialists might frequently overlap; however, it is equally clear that if you have an ongoing foot or ankle problem, a podiatrist would be the specialist of choice.
A Podiatrist Is Focused On Feet And Ankles Right From The Start
A person who wishes to become a podiatrist attends courses in medical school and performs tasks in residency that are all focused on care of the feet and ankles. The entire curriculum and course of study pursued by these individuals is aimed at and committed to the goal of becoming a podiatrist. The education process for this profession involves:
Podiatry students obtain medical training and focused training on the feet, ankles and lower legs, including understanding correct foot balance and biomechanics. This prepares them to correctly fit braces, custom shoes and orthotics.
Upon completion of training, podiatry students must qualify for practice by passing state board exams and receiving licensure. Upon completing this process, a podiatrist can treat conditions of the ankles and feet. In most cases, a podiatrist will choose to pursue conservative care rather than opting for surgical treatment.
An Orthopedic Surgeon Takes A Broader Course Of Study
A person wishing to become an orthopedic surgeon may take some of the same course work as one wishing to become a podiatrist, but this is just a small part of the aspiring orthopedist’s education.
Orthopedic surgeons are medical doctors who are trained to diagnose, treat and rehabilitate the whole musculoskeletal system. They can also provide counseling and advice on preventing injury and disease of the musculoskeletal system. An orthopedist may be the right choice if your foot and ankle problems are actually caused by problems with your lower back, hips or knees.
An orthopedic surgeon’s education consists of:
After completion of coursework and residency, students must submit to and pass national medical licensing exams.
Overall, an orthopedic surgeon has greater general medical knowledge than a podiatrist, but does not spend as much time focusing on the problems of the feet and ankles. Some orthopedic surgeons opt for an additional year-long advanced fellowship training in surgery on feet and ankles.
If you decide you want to see an orthopedic surgeon for foot and ankle care, look for one who has this extra qualification. Keep in mind that an orthopedic surgeon is far more likely to recommend surgical solutions than conservative care.
What Can A Podiatrist Treat?
To answer those questions, let’s first look at what each of these specialists do.
A Doctor of Podiatric Medicine (DPM) is well qualified to treat a wide variety of foot and ankle problems and conditions, including:
What Can An Orthopedic Surgeon Treat?
Because an orthopedic surgeon is a medical doctor specializing in joints, bones, nerves, muscles, tendons and ligaments of the whole body, he or she can treat many of the same conditions as those treated by a podiatrist, as well as a few others. For example, and orthopedist might treat or deal with:
While it is true that the orthopedist performs more procedures than the podiatrist, it is important to remember that the orthopedist’s expertise is focused on the care of joints, bones and soft tissues. The podiatrist is also able to deal with these areas and work with the dermatology and the biomechanics of ankles and feet.
For this reason, the podiatrist will work closely, on a regular ongoing basis with patients who have conditions such as diabetes. An orthopedist may see this same patient on a limited basis to deal with an acute injury or condition.
So Which Is Better - An Orthopedist Or A Podiatrist?
It really isn’t a contest, and you shouldn’t have to choose. An orthopedist may take a more holistic view of your situation and may see other aspects of your overall physical condition and lifestyle that may be affecting your foot and ankle problems. He or she may be the best choice for performing specific treatments for acute conditions.
A podiatrist may offer deeper insight and have more resources when it comes to diagnosing and coping with problems of the feet and ankles. He or she is surely better equipped to deal with ongoing foot and ankle health, strength, care and maintenance.
It is often very good to consult both when trying to determine what to do about foot and ankle pain and problems. A podiatrist is more likely to help you explore conservative care, while an orthopedist may be more likely to recommend surgery. You will want to weigh all your options.