What’s the Difference Between a Foot and Ankle Surgeon and a Podiatrist?

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The foot and ankle is one of the more complex areas of the human skeletal system, and obtaining expertise in this region of the body requires years of training, education, and practice. Determining whether a podiatrist or an orthopedic surgeon who specializes in foot and ankle is needed depends on where the problem is occurring—in the soft tissue or the skeletal system.

While both types of doctors can help return a patient to an active lifestyle, an orthopedic surgeon who specializes in the foot and ankle has a better understanding of the entire body, including bones, muscles, ligaments, tendons, and joints. Through this training, an orthopedic surgeon intimately understands the impact that the entire body can have on a foot and ankle condition, whereas a podiatrist's expertise is limited strictly to the foot, ankle, and lower leg.

Additionally, orthopedic surgeons have completed more training than podiatrists. In addition to medical school, orthopedic surgeons are required to complete five to six years of residency, and some orthopedic surgeons elect to complete a fellowship or supplementary training in a specific area of the body.

Podiatrists typically treat ingrown toenails, calluses, fallen arches, heel spurs, deformities of the feet, and some foot and ankle injuries. They can provide crucial treatment for foot problems related to diabetes and other systemic illnesses. Orthopedists can also treat heel spurs and fallen arches in addition to bone fractures and the bone’s supporting muscles, tendons, ligaments, and soft tissues. They determine the root of the problem and prescribe medications, physical therapy, or surgery to correct the problem.

For more information on the foot and ankle, visit our patient education page here. If you would like to schedule an appointment with a foot and ankle surgeon at Coastal Orthopedics please call (843) 484-0976.