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Sole Decision: Understanding When to Consult a Podiatrist or Orthopedic Surgeon

Dr. Eman Elmi
August 29, 2023
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There are so many different medical specialists out there. It can be hard to figure out which one is the right one to see for your foot problem. This is especially true if both treat overlapping areas, like podiatrists and orthopedic surgeons. Today we’ll be diving into that question and examining which times are best to consult which expert.

Both specialists can treat the same region and sometimes even work together in treatment, so confusion is natural. However, once you understand the distinction between them, the sole choice for a consultation couldn’t be clearer.

The Foot Doctor is In: When to See a Podiatrist

Podiatry comes from the Greek for “foot” and “healing/medical treatment,” so naturally, a podiatrist seeks to heal feet. Podiatrists focus on the treatment of the foot, ankle, and heel specifically.

The decision to become a podiatrist starts in medical school after four years of undergraduate training. After that, they have four years at an accredited podiatric medical school, followed by three or four years of surgical residency.

During this entire time, similar to other specialists, they focus their training on treating problems related to their area of focus. Some podiatrists further specialize in fields like sports medicine to focus on treating certain populations or conditions.

Unique for podiatry, they have extensive training in the biomechanics of the feet and how they affect the whole body. This means they can treat and diagnose problems related to foot balance or gait abnormalities. It also means they can fit and prescribe orthotics or braces as part of treatment.

Frequently leading to confusion; however, podiatrists often work hand in hand with orthopedic specialists in treating foot problems. If a podiatrist specializes in feet, what does an orthopedist specialize in?

Podiatrist vs Orthopedic: The Difference Explained

Comparing a podiatrist vs an orthopedic surgeon, or an orthopedic vs podiatrist, there is much more in common than differences between them. Both can perform surgery, and both have similar levels of education. Both can even work together on the same problem.

Much like with the podiatrist above, the easiest way to make this distinction is by looking at the name’s origin. However, unlike the podiatrist, orthos or bone only tells half the story about the orthopedic specialization. However, crucially, orthopedists focus on bone health and how those bones interact with the rest of the body.

Orthopedic doctors treat issues with muscles, bones, and ligaments all throughout the body. While these can include feet and the surrounding area, a podiatrist specializes in this region exclusively. This means they typically have more training and insight focused especially on feet and feet-related issues that orthopedists might not.

Which Specialist Is Best For You?

The simplest answer to this question is whichever doctor makes you more comfortable. If you have access to both specialists and you have a foot problem, both can provide insight and potential relief. If you already have a trusted orthopedist or podiatrist, they can also usually recommend another expert for a second opinion.

If the problem focuses exclusively on the feet and ankles, then a podiatrist has more training focused on solving them.

If you are also experiencing leg, hip, or back problems, it may be best to consult an orthopedic surgeon first.

Save Your Sole with Diablo Foot and Ankle

Depending on what problem may be affecting your feet and ankles, either specialist can best help solve it. Whether you need to see a podiatrist or orthopedic specialist, Diablo Foot and Ankle is your sole decision for relief. Our specialists will help you further understand the difference between podiatrists and orthopedists and connect you with the right one to find relief. Call or schedule your appointment today!

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