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

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. It is important to know the difference between a podiatrist and an orthopedic surgeon who specializes in foot and ankle if you are seeking care for a foot and ankle problem.

One of the most significant differences between the two is the level of training each completes. An orthopaedic surgery subspecialist completes 4 years of medical school, a 5-6 year orthopaedic surgery residency, and an additional year of subspecialty fellowship training. As a medical doctor, 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, as well as medical conditions that may affect your overall health. Through this training, an orthopedic surgeon intimately understands the impact that the entire body can have on a foot and ankle condition.

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.

Podiatrists typically treat ingrown toenails, calluses, fallen arches, heel spurs, deformities of the feet, and some common foot and ankle injuries. They can provide important treatment for foot problems related to diabetes and other systemic illnesses. Orthopedists also treat heel spurs, fallen arches, foot deformities, and injuries, but are trained to manage the full spectrum of problems involving the bones, muscles, tendons, ligaments, and soft tissues of the foot, ankle, and lower leg. Your orthopaedist will determine the root of your problem and prescribe medications, physical therapy, bracing, 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 Sierra Pacific Orthopedics please call (559) 256-5200.