Should I see a podiatrist or an orthopedic surgeon?
What’s the difference?
As with most distinctions between the titles of medical professionals, the difference between a podiatrist and an orthopedic surgeon has to do with their specialized knowledge and the services they can offer.
An orthopedic surgeon is a medical doctor who specializes in the musculoskeletal system (the muscles, bones, joints, and tendons that support your body). As medical doctors, orthopedic surgeons have gone through medical school, have had further training in their special branch of medicine, and are typically qualified to perform surgeries. Some orthopedic surgeons are generalists and have a broad knowledge of the entire musculoskeletal system. Many, however, choose to further specialize within their field, focusing on the spine or hand, for example.
Podiatrists, on the other hand, are specialists from the beginning of their training and take a slightly different educational path. Podiatrists are all necessarily foot and ankle specialists. When they finish their medical training they are awarded a Doctor of Podiatric Medicine (D.P.M.) degree rather than an M.D. Many podiatrists are not trained to perform surgeries, though they can go through additional training to gain that accreditation.
Which choice is right for me?
One of the reasons there are so many kinds of doctor is that the human body is incredibly complex and there’s so much to know about it. Which doctor you choose should depend on what specific issue you have. Your family doctor may recommend you see a specialist but referrals aren’t required to consult a podiatrist. Common issues that podiatrists focus on include:
- Ingrown toe nails
- Arch, heel, and other foot pain
- Heel spurs
- Achilles tendon issues