What is the difference between a Podiatrist and Foot & Ankle Orthopedic Surgeon?

Numerous types of health care providers evaluate and treat conditions of the feet.  These include podiatrists, orthopedic surgeons, primary care physicians, and physical therapists. 

An orthopedic surgeon is a medical doctor who treats the entire musculoskeletal system, head to toe.  Some foot and ankle problems often originate from your knee or from alignment problems with your legs.  Foot and ankle fellowship trained orthopedic surgeons Dr. Mary Loftus, Podiatristare able to effectively treat even the most complex lower extremity conditions in conjunction with the rest of your body.  As a result, orthopedic surgeons are able to take care of more serious medical complications and issues if they arise.

A podiatrist has specialized training to treat disorders of the foot and ankle.  A podiatrist treats only foot and ankle conditions.  Podiatrists are able to treat disorders conservatively as well as surgically; while some podiatrists even perform complicated reconstructive surgeries.


What is a Podiatrist?

A podiatrist is a Doctor of Podiatric Medicine (DPM).  A DPM is a health care professional trained in the care of the feet and ankles.  These doctors receive medical training plus special training on the foot, ankle and lower leg.  Podiatrists are also extremely well trained in biomechanics and therefore well equipped to fit orthotics, custom shoes, and a variety of braces.

Podiatrists must complete the following formal education, including:
  • Four years of undergraduate school
  • Four years at an accredited podiatric medical school
  • Optional 2-4 year residencies to receive additional training

All podiatrists must pass state board examinations before they are licensed. Most states require continuing medical education for license renewals. One organization that provides such education to podiatrists is the American Society of Podiatric Surgeons.

What is an Orthopedic Foot and Ankle Surgeon?

Orthopedics is the medical specialty devoted to the diagnosis, treatment, rehabilitation, and prevention of injuries and diseases of your body's musculoskeletal system (bones, muscles, tendons/ligaments, and joints). This is the system that allows you to move, work and be active.

While some orthopedists practice general orthopedics, some specialize in treating the foot and ankle while others may specialize in the hand, shoulder, spine, hip, knee, or in pediatrics or sports medicine. If you choose an orthopedic surgeon to take care of your feet, make sure you choose one with expertise in foot problems.

Orthopedic Foot & Ankle surgeons must complete up to 14 years of formal education including:
  • Four years of undergraduate school
  • Four years at an accredited medical school
  • Five years of study in orthopedic residency at a major medical center
  • One year of fellowship training dedicated to the treatment of foot and ankle diseases, deformities, and injuries

An orthopedic surgeon must pass oral and written examinations given by the American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery. Orthopedic foot and ankle surgeons that have specialty training may also be members of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) and American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society (AOFAS). In addition, orthopedists spend many hours studying and attending continuing medical education courses to maintain their certification and current orthopedic knowledge and skills.

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