Should I See a Podiatrist or Orthopedist?

As Dr. Schoene always says “Podiatrists are like the family practitioner of the lower extremity, we treat everything that can affect the feet and ankles.”

How Podiatrists and Orthopedists Differ

A typical day at a podiatrist’s office may involve any and/or all the below conditions.

  • Metabolic conditions: diabetes and other metabolic conditions can seriously affect the feet and legs.
  • Orthopedic issues: bunions, hammertoes, heel pain, tendonitis,  sprains & fractures.  
  • Rheumatological:  arthritis affects many of the joints of the foot and ankle, causing pain.
  • Biomechanical:  Abnormal pronation can be treated with custom orthotics.
  • Dermatological: skin and nail issues can lead to pain and  need to be evaluated and treated. 
  • Neurological: neuropathic pain and nerve entrapment syndromes are very painful and debilitating.
  • Vascular diseases: venous and arterial issues may prolong healing times.
  • Wound and infection issues: immediate pharmacological treatment (and possibly surgery) is crucial in halting infection.   
  • Sports medicine related knee, hip & lower back issues: foot alignment affects the whole kinetic chain of movement.
Doctor showing an X-ray of a foot

Podiatric Training and Education

Podiatric Surgeons and specialists go through  4 years of podiatric medical school training and complete a 3-year surgical residency program. Students learn everything from podiatric foot and ankle surgery to patient care while rotating through hospitals and surgical centers. Podiatric students often work alongside general orthopedic surgeons and assist orthopedic surgery cases or clinical work. 

How Do Orthopedic and Podiatric Education Differ?

The number of podiatry surgery cases that a resident needs to graduate spans 3-years and with numerous patients and surgical case variety. 

  • The number of cases a podiatry resident performs is typically greater during their 3-year program than their orthopedic counterparts.
  • Unless an orthopedist has foot and ankle training, they generally do not perform foot or ankle surgery.
  • Podiatrists perform more foot care, foot surgery, and ankle surgery than orthopedists.

The Case for Podiatric Treatment Over Orthopedic Treatment

There are numerous studies published attesting to the merits of podiatric care.  Foot and ankle surgery performed by a podiatrist have less complications, lower failure rates, 30% shorter hospital stays, and 30% lower costs per episode.

These studies also show that podiatrists perform a higher percentage of general foot care in patient populations and have a higher percentage of foot and ankle surgery when compared to orthopedists.  Studies were done using The National Health interview survey database and the National Center for Health Statistics from Kellog, among others.

What Happens During a Podiatry Office Visit?

  • Many conservative care options will be given to you during your office visit.
  • Most simple procedures can be performed in the office during our office visit.
  • If surgery is required we have numerous locations to serve you, with hospital or surgery center partners.
  • We can dispense many types of supplies  you may need for your foot and ankle condition,
  • We can prescribe medication if needed for pain, inflammation or  infections, 
  • We can order all types of tests: X-rays, MRI, CT scans, Diagnostic Ultrasounds.
  • We can order any type of lab test or pathology test for suspicious lesions, or infections.
  • We can discuss your foot wear, fabricate some padding or strap up a foot to offload pressures.
  • We can discuss your athletic activities and suggest training plans to return after an injury.

What Orthopedists Don’t Perform or Treat

  • Nail surgery for nail conditions
  • Dermatology care for skin, calluses or nail issues 
  • Strapping or padding the foot
  • Shoe suggestions or modifying a shoe
  • Cast your foot for an orthotic device
  • Wound care for an ulcer
  • Diabetic foot care 
  • Treat Arthritis conservatively
  • Do ongoing  conservative care for sprains, heel pain, or tendonitis
  • Evaluate alignment of the foot, ankle, knee hip and lower back. 
When choosing between a podiatrist and an orthopedist, it’s a simple answer; go to the doctor that does it all!  Podiatrists are thorough, are trained to treat every type of foot and lower extremity no matter what body system is involved.