Should I See A Podiatrist Or An Orthopedist? Get The Facts On These Fancy Foot Doctors

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Choosing between a podiatrist and orthopedist for your foot or ankle care often involves the type of medical condition you have and the practitioner’s expertise.

If you’re experiencing foot or ankle pain, you may be unsure which type of physician to seek out for treatment. While both podiatrists and orthopedists are specialists that handle foot-and ankle-related problems, each has a different focus and choosing one that’s right for you will depend on your specific needs.

In this Essex Union Podiatry article, you will discover the differences between podiatrists and orthopedists as well as how they manage the various aspects of patient care involving the foot and ankle. 

What Is a Podiatrist?

A podiatrist is a medical specialist who provides diagnosis and treatment of injuries and medical conditions related to the foot and ankle. Also known as a Doctor of Podiatric Medicine (DPM), a podiatrist’s path to licensure involves the following training:

  1. Four years of undergraduate study
  2. Four years of podiatric medical school
  3. Three to four years of residence training in foot and ankle surgery

The specialized training a podiatrist obtains focuses specifically on feet and ankles, which enables them to manage a wide variety of surgical and non-surgical issues such as:

  • Arch problems
  • Arthritis
  • Bone spurs
  • Bunions
  • Calluses and corns
  • Diabetic problems
  • Fractures
  • Hammertoes
  • Heel spurs
  • Infections
  • Ingrown toenails 
  • Plantar fasciitis
  • Sprains and strains 
  • Ulcers

Podiatrists work in a range of facility types and work as independent practitioners or as members of provider networks who collaborate with other physicians to treat larger and more complex health conditions. 

The type and amount of surgery each practitioner performs generally depends on their training and individual preferences. According to the American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA), there are approximately 18,000 podiatrists in the United States today.

Contact us now to discuss your foot and ankle health needs.

What Is an Orthopedist?

An orthopedist is a medical specialist who diagnoses, treats, and surgically corrects conditions and injuries affecting the musculoskeletal system, more specifically, a person’s bones, joints, muscles, and ligaments.

Also known as an orthopedic doctor, orthopedic physician, and orthopedic surgeon, an orthopedist will gain the title of MD (Medical Doctor) or DO (Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine) upon completion of their education, and the path to licensure is as follows:

  1. Four years of undergraduate study
  2. Four years of medical school
  3. Five years of residency in orthopedic surgery
  4. An optional one- to two-year fellowship treating foot and ankle disorders

The specialized training an orthopedist obtains allows them to address a variety of  musculoskeletal ailments throughout the body, such as:

  • Arthritis
  • Back and neck pain
  • Bone cancer
  • Bursitis
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Congenital defects
  • Fractures
  • Hip pain
  • Shoulder pain 
  • Soft tissue injuries
  • Sprains and strains
  • Tendinitis

When an orthopedist treats problems like the ones listed above, the course of action can include medications, injections, physical therapy, mobility aids, and other medical measures including surgery.

Like podiatrists, orthopedists work in a range of facility types and can be independent practitioners or members of larger medical networks. There are nearly 30,000 board-certified orthopedic surgeons practicing in the United States today, according to the American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery.

Do I Need to See a Podiatrist or an Orthopedist?

This is one of the most common questions asked by individuals seeking diagnosis or treatment of feet and ankle issues, so keep these ideas in mind…

Podiatrists are educated and trained to treat conditions specifically related to the foot and ankle. If your medical issue is particular to these areas, it’s always advisable to see a podiatrist first. In addition, if you’ve seen a general medical doctor and they’ve recommended foot or ankle surgery, make sure to consult with a podiatrist before you see an orthopedist.

The time to seek out an orthopedist is when your issue stems from another part of your musculoskeletal system such as your back or hips. They can work with you using a holistic approach to your care, and may recommend working in collaboration with a podiatrist to manage your overall treatment. 

Moving forward, here’s a guideline to keep in mind: Although every orthopedist is a surgeon, they don’t all specialize in treating foot and ankle problems and a podiatrist is likely to serve as the better expert. 

No matter who you choose for treatment, it’s always important to first ask a physician details about their experience and qualifications before committing to their care. If you need surgery on your foot or ankle, you wouldn’t want to choose a podiatrist with limited experience, nor would you want to take a risk on an orthopedist who hasn’t specialized in foot and ankle care.

Misconceptions About Podiatrists and Orthopedists

In the sphere of foot and ankle medicine, it’s a fairly common assumption that you should only see a podiatrist for non-surgical ailments and you should only see an orthopedist when you need surgery. Obviously, this isn’t true; both types of practitioners perform surgeries and treat other conditions depending on their specializations and the patient’s overall medical needs.

A few interesting facts:

  • About one-third of U.S. orthopedists will designate themselves as “general orthopedic surgeons” according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. The other two-thirds will be “general orthopedic surgeons with specialty interest” or “specialists within orthopedic surgery.” 
  • Podiatrists complete approximately 4,000 of study to become qualified in treating foot and ankle problems.
  • Orthopedists will consider non-surgical options before recommending surgery. 
  • Podiatrists are similar to other medical specialists in the sense that they focus on one area of the body. Overall, podiatrists are the best-qualified practitioners to diagnose and treat medical issues related to the foot and ankle.

Our advanced podiatry treatments can help relieve your foot and ankle issues.

Expert Podiatrists in Union County and Essex County, New Jersey

When choosing a medical provider for your foot or ankle, you can consult with a podiatrist or an orthopedist depending on your personal preferences and who you think has the best credentials.

At Essex Union Podiatry, we specialize in both non-surgical and surgical podiatric care options, and when you consult with one of our physicians, we will provide you a quick and accurate diagnosis and course of treatment.

Please contact us at 973-313-5464 or fill out our secure online form to schedule your appointment. We have office visits available at a variety of locations across Union and Essex Counties for your convenience.

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