Should I See a Podiatrist or an Orthopedic Surgeon?

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When people first experience foot and ankle issues, they are often uncertain about how to get the problem evaluated. They take one of two approaches: a) consult with their primary care physician, who will usually refer a foot specialist; or b) take the search to Google to try to get more information on both the cause of their pain and the right type of medical professional to visit.

When it comes down to specific foot ailments and their treatment, you may notice see that articles and posts will most often consult a podiatrist for commentary, but once in a while, you’ll see that the doctor is an orthopedic surgeon. So what exactly is the primary role of each of these types of doctors? How should that influence which type of specialist you see for your foot or ankle problem?

According to American Association of Colleges of Podiatric Medicine (AACPM), Podiatrists are Doctors of Podiatric Medicine (DPM), also known as podiatric surgeons, and are fully qualified by their education and training to diagnose and treat conditions affecting the foot, ankle and related structures of the leg.

Generally, a Podiatrist will complete four years of undergraduate school; another four years at an accredited Podiatric Medical School, 3-4 years of surgical residency training restricted to foot and ankle.

An orthopedic surgeon, or orthopedist, is a doctor of medicine who specializes on the diagnosis, correction, and treatment of the musculoskeletal system of the whole body. They treat problems affecting all areas. This is evident in the fact that a search for orthopedic doctors will lead to medical professionals who treat problems of the knee, shoulder, hip, neck and spine.

That is the key differentiator. While an orthopedic surgeon can treat a musculoskeletal problem like an ankle fracture or bunion, this is not their primary focus. A podiatrist on the other hand, has been trained and practices specifically on the foot and ankle, including the musculosketelal structure, deformity, disease treatment, and dermatology (skin and nail health).

Podiatrists are also experts in biomechanics and foot balance, making them the only source for custom shoes, orthotics and variety of braces. This specialization gives a Podiatrist an edge over a general orthopedist when a problem of the foot or ankle must be addressed effectively, and when surgery is not the only treatment on the table.

Other conditions that can be treated by podiatrists include: ingrown toenails, corns and calluses, fallen arches, heel spurs, nerve compression, deformities of the feet, and foot problems related to diabetes and other chronic illnesses.

Choosing between a Podiatrist and Orthopedic Surgeon

The choice of who to consult will depend on which of the professionals you are more comfortable with, and the specifics of your condition. Both types of professionals can effectively treat some of the same issues, with little to no difference in approach, technique or outcome. However, when it comes to the foot and ankle, the preferred choice would be a podiatrist.

Other important considerations should include certification by recognized professional bodies like American Board of Podiatric Surgery (ABPS) or American Board of Lower Extremity Surgery, the number of years they’ve been in practice, and deep experience with the type of problem for which you seek treatment. It’s great to receive physician recommendations from others, but it’s important to know the difference between these specialities in making a decision.

If you’re searching for an experienced and respected Houston podiatrist, call (713) 541-3199to schedule an appointment with Dr. Gabriel Maislos. Dr. Maislos can provide expert diagnosis for your condition. Or, he can provide a valuable second opinion to help you determine the best course of treatment.

Call (713) 541-3199 if you experience:

  • ankle fracture
  • deformity such as bunions or hammertoe
  • pain during activity

Houston Foot and Ankle