Podiatrist vs Orthopedist: What's the Difference? | Vionic (2022)

There is often some confusion surrounding the differences between orthopedists and podiatrists. Although they both specialize in ailments of the feet, they’re not exactly the same thing.

A podiatrist specializes in all things foot and ankle, while an orthopedist treats the bones, muscles, and ligaments within the foot, ankle, and legs—as well as the rest of the body.

Because our feet are the foundation of our bodies, taking proper care of your feet is often symbiotic to the health of our knees, hips, and back. So, when it comes to matters of the foot, it’s a lot like Cinderella’s slipper—you want to find the right fit. It’s really no different when you’re trying to find a comfortable pair of shoes. Whether it be stylish shoes for men or work shoes for women, you want to find the right support for your feet and a podiatrist or orthopedist can often recommend the right ones.

In this blog, we’ll cover everything you need to know about the differences between orthopedists and podiatrists, and how to identify which doctor can provide the best treatment for you.

What is a Podiatrist?

Imagine you’re playing the game of Operation, and you’ve been tasked with fixing the wretched ankle. Who’s the surgeon you’ll want to call if you can’t keep your patient’s nose from glaring bright red and rattling the contents of the game board? A podiatrist.

Podiatrists are doctors of podiatric medicine (DPM) whose education focuses, in large part, around the lower extremities of the body—the ankles and feet.

These types of doctors know their way around all 26 bones, 30 joints, and 100-plus muscles, ligaments, and tendons in the foot like the back of their proverbial hand.

Beyond their highly specific knowledge of the lower legs, ankles, and feet, podiatrists may choose to narrow their focus even further by specializing in fields such as surgery, public health, sports medicine, geriatrics, or radiology.

(Video) What is the Difference Between a Podiatrist and an Orthopedic Surgeon

Some of the most common injuries and illnesses podiatrists may treat are:

  • Sprains and/or feet or ankle fractures
  • Arthritis in the feet and lower legs
  • Ingrown toenails and fungal infections
  • Achilles tendonitis
  • Plantar fasciitis
  • Nerve-related damage in your legs and feet as a result of diabetes
  • Bunions, hammertoes, and claw toes

What Kind of Education and Training Does a Podiatrist Receive?

As with many other doctoral degrees, education and training for doctors of podiatric medicine are extensive. After completing four years of undergraduate study in a qualifying field, candidates must then apply to an accredited podiatric medical college. Once accepted, students will participate in four years of continued study with focuses on pharmacology, podiatric pathology, lower extremity anatomy, and more.

A minimum two-year residency is required for all graduates of podiatric medical school in which podiatrists explore and gain additional hands-on experience in surgery, pediatrics, or anesthesiology. A podiatric physician can be found working in a variety of medical environments, including:

  • Hospitals and extended care facilities
  • Private and group practices
  • Municipal health departments
  • Armed forces

What is an Orthopedist?

Unlike podiatrists, who possess specialized knowledge of the bones, joints, and muscles of the feet and ankles, orthopedists are experts in the body’s musculoskeletal system as a whole.

Whether you’re experiencing joint pain in an elbow or you’re suffering from a sports injury in your knee, orthopedists can assess your condition and provide treatment no matter what part of your body has been affected.

Orthopedists are commonly known as orthopedic surgeons, but it’s important to note that not all orthopedic doctors are surgeons. Though many orthopedists may choose to focus their practice on surgery, several others specialize in both prevention and minimally invasive treatment plans that may not involve operations of any kind.

However, as a whole, orthopedic doctors and surgeons are trained to treat a number of ailments, including:

  • Osteoporosis
  • Carpal tunnel
  • Hip dysplasia
  • Spinal stenosis or ruptured discs
  • Bone tumors
  • Joint pain
  • Arthritis
  • Plantar fasciitis
  • Bunions
  • Scoliosis

What Kind of Education and Training Does an Orthopedist Receive?

Aspiring orthopedists must complete four years of undergraduate study in a scientific field, such as biology or chemistry, before continuing on to an additional four years of study at an accredited orthopedic medical school. In addition, as part of their educational track, candidates must complete a residency program that generally lasts five years.

(Video) Orthopedics vs. Podiatrists | Orlando Health

Within their field, an orthopedic specialist may decide to pursue a sub-specialty—oncology, sports medicine, reconstructive surgery, and pediatrics are just a few directions that orthopedists can take.

Once orthopedists have completed all of the necessary educational requirements, they can find work in a number of different settings:

  • Hospitals
  • Private clinics
  • University medical centers
  • Specialized practices

What Are the Differences Between Orthopedists and Podiatrists?

Depending on your condition, you may visit with both a podiatrist or orthopedist throughout your assessments, diagnosis, and treatments of your injury or illness.

In some cases, the two may even work side-by-side.

If you’ve been dealing with recurring pain in your hip joint, it’s likely you’ve been seeing an orthopedist. But, if consequently, the joints and bones of your feet become affected, you may be referred to a podiatrist. The reverse could also occur.

You’ll want to identify which type of doctor is best for your injury by singling out the difference between podiatrist and orthopedist:

  • Orthopedists have a more comprehensive background and knowledge of the whole body, focusing on diagnosing and treating ailments throughout the entire musculoskeletal system
  • Podiatry is focused on the lower extremities, as well as the muscle, bone, and joint injuries that affect the ankles and feet
  • Orthopedists undergo a longer residency (five years) than podiatrists (two years)

Although their education and specialties may vary, there are many ways in which the jobs of podiatrists and orthopedists overlap—both can prescribe medication, reset bones, and perform surgery.

So, how do you know which doctor is right for your condition? Understand your ailment.

(Video) PODIATRY vs ORTHOPEDIC SURGEON | The difference between a podiatrist and an orthopedist

How to Know if You Need a Podiatrist or an Orthopedist

So, how do you know which doctor is right for your condition? Understand your ailment.

When asking yourself, “Do I need a podiatrist or an orthopedist?” do your best to identify where the ache or pain is stemming from—is it isolated to an ankle sprain or is the pain originating from somewhere else in your body?

Generally, if you are able to identify the source of your pain as coming from the foot, ankle, or lower leg, reach out to a podiatrist for an appointment. They have a more acute knowledge of this area of your body and, by knowing when to see a podiatrist, you could save yourself an unnecessary trip to a doctor who would end up referring you to a podiatrist anyway.

On the other hand, if you think your foot pain may be the result of an underlying bone or joint issue elsewhere in your body, an orthopedic doctor may be a good place to start.

Taking care of your feet can be an integral part of maintaining your overall health. Since injuries of the foot can lead to other ailments like back and knee pain, poor posture, or even skin conditions, it’s important to seek out the proper care to prevent an isolated injury from taking its toll on another part of your body.

Tips for Maintaining Overall Foot Health

A visit to the podiatrist or orthopedist may be inevitable after years of sports, exercise, and repeated use, but there are also a number of ways to keep your foot health in check.

So, what can you start doing today to start caring for your feet? Harvard Health suggests:

  • Keep your feet moisturized – Have you experienced bleeding and uncomfortable cracks as a result of dry feet? Kick the calluses by regularly applying a moisturizing foot lotion after showering each day.
  • Be mindful of foot hygiene – Keep your toenails trimmed and consider adding a foot exfoliation mask or peel into your routine. Remember: Bacteria can grow in warm, moist places, so make sure you’re taking the time to thoroughly dry your feet after showering.
  • Participate in routine stretching – There are many interconnected parts that exist within your musculoskeletal system. Keep your feet and their surrounding muscles well-stretched to prevent injury and improve mobility.
  • Maintain a healthy weight – If possible, try to avoid putting any extra strain on your feet, they have a lot of work to do already—they’re the foundation of your body, after all. Find a healthy weight that’s right for your body type and height, and do your best to maintain your weight to prevent chronic conditions like arthritis and improve circulation in your feet.
  • Wear proper, supportive footwear – The shoes you wear matter. Don’t settle for a pair of sneakers that don’t check all the boxes—you’ll want to find shoes with arch support, toe cushioning, and enough room to wiggle around.

Taking small, everyday steps toward maintaining overall foot health can improve the foot’s overall function and prevent future injuries.

(Video) Podiatrist Vs. Orthopedist: What is the Difference? - Seattle Foot Doctor Near Me

Maintain Proper Foot Health with Vionic

Foot health is the foundation of whole-body health, as such it’s important to identify whether a podiatrist or orthopedist will best suit your needs.

It’s also important to consider what you’re putting on your feet while doing so. Whether you’re lounging at home, walking around your neighborhood, or spending time at the beach, wear Vionic.

We factor in style, stability, cushioning, and arch support into each of our shoes and insoles. In fact, our shoes have the American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA) Seal of Acceptance, guaranteeing that you’re getting the support you need.

Shop the Vio-Motion technology collection today, and step into a difference you can feel.

Sources:

  1. “Anatomy of the Foot”. Arthritis Foundation. https://www.arthritis.org/health-wellness/about-arthritis/where-it-hurts/anatomy-of-the-foot
  2. “5 ways to keep your feet healthy for better mobility”. Harvard Health Publishing. July 18, 2019, https://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/5-ways-to-keep-your-feet-healthy-for-better-mobility
  3. “Orthopedic Surgeons: Seven Things You Need to Know”. Penn Medicine. Dec 04, 2019, https://www.pennmedicine.org/updates/blogs/musculoskeletal-and-rheumatology/2019/december/ortho-surgeons-7-things-to-know

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(Video) What's the difference between an orthopedic ankle and foot specialist and a podiatrist?

FAQs

Podiatrist vs Orthopedist: What's the Difference? | Vionic? ›

The only discernible difference between them is that an orthopedist manages parts of the foot and ankle that pertain to the bones, soft tissues and joints, while a podiatrist manages the same areas, but also the biomechanics and dermatology of the foot and ankle.

What is the difference between orthopedic and podiatric? ›

The main difference lies in the body systems they treat. Orthopedic surgeons are concerned with bones, muscles, ligaments and joints throughout the body. They are bone and joint doctors and surgeons. Podiatrists are foot and ankle doctors and surgeons.

Is a podiatrist the same as a foot surgeon? ›

Podiatrists attend podiatry school and typically complete a brief residency thereafter. As such, podiatrists are not medical doctors (MDs). 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.

Do podiatrists treat ankle injuries? ›

Both podiatrists and orthopaedic surgeons are qualified to treat foot and ankle conditions, surgically and non-surgically.

Can a podiatrist order an MRI? ›

A podiatrist can administer medication and order tests.

They can order tests such as MRI's, CT's to establish a diagnosis, give medications as needed for pain, immobilize the structure or perform surgery if needed. They may also direct a physical therapist if this treatment is needed.

What conditions do podiatrists treat? ›

Conditions Podiatrists Treat
  • Fractures and sprains. Podiatrists regularly treat these common injuries when they affect a foot or ankle. ...
  • Bunions and hammertoes. These are problems with the bones in your feet. ...
  • Diabetes. ...
  • Arthritis. ...
  • Growing pains. ...
  • Heel pain. ...
  • Morton's neuroma.
Jun 23, 2021

Is it better to see a podiatrist or orthopedist for plantar fasciitis? ›

The more conventional and least invasive treatments will come from a podiatrist so it would make sense to see this type of physician first. If the treatment methods do not work and surgery is required, then it will be time to consider a qualified orthopedist who has specialized training in foot and ankle disorders.

Is a podiatrist a real doctor? ›

They are DPM's; they are a doctor of podiatric medicine; they can be both surgeon and a physician at the same time and they specialise in treating the ankle, foot and other related areas of the leg.

What is the difference between orthopedic and orthopaedic? ›

“Orthopaedics” is commonly regarded as the British and academic spelling of the term while “orthopedics” can be considered its Americanized version; however, you may see these spellings used interchangeably.

Should I go to a podiatrist or orthopedist for ankle sprain? ›

The best option is to see a podiatrist who is a part of a well-experienced orthopedic center. This way, you can get effective foot and ankle care and have access to orthopedic physicians in the situation you need care for an issue related to other parts of the body.

Which doctor is best for ankle pain? ›

It is not uncommon to find that podiatrists often have a different comfort level in the types of injuries they like to see and treat. The orthopedic foot and ankle specialist has an emphasis on the entire musculoskeletal system and has the expertise to treat the entire body.

Can a podiatrist treat torn ligaments? ›

Non-sports related injuries podiatrists often treat include bunions, ingrown toenails, calluses, blisters, warts, corns, nail infections, flat feet problems, dry skin, hammertoes, foot ligament pain, and overall muscle pain.

Can podiatrists prescribe pain medicine? ›

Podiatrists have the same rights to prescribing, administering, and dispensing medication that all licensed physicians do. However, podiatrists are limited to prescribing medications that treat their patients' foot conditions.

Can podiatrists give cortisone shots? ›

A typical procedure for cortisone injections in the foot

Following the evaluation of the patient's condition and the diagnosis, the podiatrist may opt for cortisone injections.

Can MRI show nerve damage in foot? ›

An MRI may be able help identify structural lesions that may be pressing against the nerve so the problem can be corrected before permanent nerve damage occurs. Nerve damage can usually be diagnosed based on a neurological examination and can be correlated by MRI scan findings.

What is the most common problem treated by podiatrist? ›

The most common foot problem that a podiatrist treats is heel pain. Heel pain can be caused by a variety of different conditions, such as plantar fasciitis or Achilles tendinitis. Treatment for heel pain often includes things like stretching exercises, orthotic devices, or cortisone injections.

When should I see a podiatrist? ›

Ten Signs It's Time to See a Podiatrist
  • Numbness, pain or swelling in one foot. ...
  • Nail fungus. ...
  • Continuous heel pain. ...
  • You think you've sprained or broken your ankle or foot. ...
  • A reoccurring case of athlete's foot. ...
  • You have diabetes. ...
  • An ingrown toenail. ...
  • Bunions.
May 30, 2017

What is the most common foot problem? ›

Bunions are one of the most common foot problems. A bunion is a prominent bump on the inside of the foot around the big toe joint.

Can a orthopedic treat plantar fasciitis? ›

Your orthopedic surgeon or podiatrist may perform a procedure to cut some of the inflamed ligament—a plantar fascia release—and ease some of the tightness in the tissue.

Can podiatrist treat plantar fasciitis? ›

If plantar fasciitis does not get better, a GP might refer you to a physiotherapist or foot specialist (podiatrist). A physiotherapist can show you exercises to help ease your symptoms. A podiatrist can recommend things like insoles and the right shoes to wear.

What is a foot specialist called? ›

A podiatrist -- officially known as a doctor of podiatric medicine (DPM) — is trained to treat issues in the foot, ankle, and lower leg. They can help your limb work the way it should, reduce pain, and speed healing after an injury or surgery.

Are podiatrists medically trained? ›

Whilst a Podiatrist is not medically trained and therefore not a Doctor, extensive Postgraduate training enables Podiatrists to perform foot surgery. Podiatric Surgeons are highly specialised only operating on the foot rather like a Dental Surgeon who will only treat your mouth.

Do podiatrists treat cracked heels? ›

Podiatrists do treat cracked heels, however referral to other health professionals may be necessary when this condition is caused by nutritional or any other medical disorder.

Do podiatrists cut toenails? ›

While you may be able to care for your toenails at home, you can also schedule a visit with the podiatrists at Certified Foot and Ankle Specialists to trim your toenails properly.

What services are offered by orthopedic? ›

Surgical procedures used in the treatment of orthopedics include:
  • Amputation.
  • Arthroscopic surgeries.
  • Bunionectomy and hammer toe repair.
  • Cartilage repair or resurfacing procedures.
  • Cartilage surgery to knee.
  • Fracture care.
  • Joint replacement (arthroplasty)
  • Ligament reconstructions.
Jul 12, 2022

What does an orthopedic Do? ›

Orthopedic surgeons are doctors who specialize in the musculoskeletal system - the bones, joints, ligaments, tendons, and muscles that are so essential to movement and everyday life. With more than 200 bones in the human body, it's an in-demand specialty. Dislocated joints. Hip or back pain.

What is the meaning of orthopedist? ›

An orthopedist (also spelled orthopaedist) is a medical specialty focusing on injuries and diseases affecting your musculoskeletal system (bones, muscles, joints and soft tissues). Although this type of doctor is a surgeon, they often help people get relief with nonsurgical therapies. Appointments 216.444.2606.

Is it better to see a podiatrist or orthopedist for plantar fasciitis? ›

The more conventional and least invasive treatments will come from a podiatrist so it would make sense to see this type of physician first. If the treatment methods do not work and surgery is required, then it will be time to consider a qualified orthopedist who has specialized training in foot and ankle disorders.

When should I see a podiatrist? ›

Ten Signs It's Time to See a Podiatrist
  • Numbness, pain or swelling in one foot. ...
  • Nail fungus. ...
  • Continuous heel pain. ...
  • You think you've sprained or broken your ankle or foot. ...
  • A reoccurring case of athlete's foot. ...
  • You have diabetes. ...
  • An ingrown toenail. ...
  • Bunions.
May 30, 2017

What is the difference between orthopedic and orthopaedic? ›

“Orthopaedics” is commonly regarded as the British and academic spelling of the term while “orthopedics” can be considered its Americanized version; however, you may see these spellings used interchangeably.

What is podiatric surgery? ›

The Department of Podiatric Surgery at Manipal Hospitals, deals with surgical intervention to treat disorders of the foot and lower extremity. The department covers foot surgery under sports medicine and diabetic foot surgery which are the two most common use cases of podiatric surgery.

Is a podiatrist a real doctor? ›

They are DPM's; they are a doctor of podiatric medicine; they can be both surgeon and a physician at the same time and they specialise in treating the ankle, foot and other related areas of the leg.

Can a orthopedic treat plantar fasciitis? ›

Your orthopedic surgeon or podiatrist may perform a procedure to cut some of the inflamed ligament—a plantar fascia release—and ease some of the tightness in the tissue.

Can podiatrist treat plantar fasciitis? ›

If plantar fasciitis does not get better, a GP might refer you to a physiotherapist or foot specialist (podiatrist). A physiotherapist can show you exercises to help ease your symptoms. A podiatrist can recommend things like insoles and the right shoes to wear.

What is the most common problem treated by podiatrist? ›

The most common foot problem that a podiatrist treats is heel pain. Heel pain can be caused by a variety of different conditions, such as plantar fasciitis or Achilles tendinitis. Treatment for heel pain often includes things like stretching exercises, orthotic devices, or cortisone injections.

Do podiatrists cut toenails? ›

While you may be able to care for your toenails at home, you can also schedule a visit with the podiatrists at Certified Foot and Ankle Specialists to trim your toenails properly.

What do you wear to a podiatry appointment? ›

You should also bring athletic shoes if you feel the problem with your feet is due to exercise. Your shoes may tell your podiatrist about your gait, or other factors that could be causing you discomfort. For your well-being, wear clean, fresh socks. Foot conditions like toenail fungus can be smelly.

What services are offered by orthopedic? ›

Surgical procedures used in the treatment of orthopedics include:
  • Amputation.
  • Arthroscopic surgeries.
  • Bunionectomy and hammer toe repair.
  • Cartilage repair or resurfacing procedures.
  • Cartilage surgery to knee.
  • Fracture care.
  • Joint replacement (arthroplasty)
  • Ligament reconstructions.
Jul 12, 2022

What does an orthopedic Do? ›

Orthopedic surgeons are doctors who specialize in the musculoskeletal system - the bones, joints, ligaments, tendons, and muscles that are so essential to movement and everyday life. With more than 200 bones in the human body, it's an in-demand specialty. Dislocated joints. Hip or back pain.

What is the meaning of orthopedist? ›

An orthopedist (also spelled orthopaedist) is a medical specialty focusing on injuries and diseases affecting your musculoskeletal system (bones, muscles, joints and soft tissues). Although this type of doctor is a surgeon, they often help people get relief with nonsurgical therapies. Appointments 216.444.2606.

What can a podiatric surgeon do? ›

Podiatric surgeons offer comprehensive surgical care for a wide variety of problems, including: bunions (hallux valgus) problems with the toes (e.g. hammer toes) nerve entrapments of the foot and ankle.

What did podiatrist used to be called? ›

Until the turn of the 20th century, chiropodists—now sometimes known as podiatrists—were separate from organized medicine. They were independently licensed physicians who treated the feet, ankles and related leg structures.

What is a foot doctor called? ›

A podiatrist -- officially known as a doctor of podiatric medicine (DPM) — is trained to treat issues in the foot, ankle, and lower leg. They can help your limb work the way it should, reduce pain, and speed healing after an injury or surgery.

Videos

1. Dr. Deol – Foot & Ankle Specialist or Podiatrist – What’s the Difference?
(Panorama Orthopedics & Spine Center)
2. AOA Orthopedic Specialists - Dr. Don Stewart - Orthopedic Surgeon vs. Podiatrist
(Arlington Ortho)
3. Difference between podiatrist and Orthopedist
(Get Well Soon)
4. New York Injury Law Show - Episode 5: Orthopedic surgeons vs. podiatrists - what's the difference?
(D'Orazio Peterson LLP)
5. Podiatrist vs. Orthopedist for Bunions
(Seattle Foot and Ankle Center: J John Hoy DPM PS)
6. Should I go to a podiatrist or an orthopedist?
(Tri-County Foot & Ankle)

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