Given the overlaps in many medical specialties, it can be quite hard for someone with little or no medical background to know whom to see when they have a particular health concern.

This might be the case when you have a foot or ankle problem. While you can turn to your primary care physician for a variety of foot and ankle issues, they will give you a referral to a podiatrist or an orthopedist if they think you need advanced treatment. Now you might be wondering how a podiatrist is any different from an orthopedist, and if seeing one is better than seeing the other.

In this blog, we are going to explore the key differences between a podiatrist and an orthopedist as far as their training and scope of practice.

What Is a Podiatrist?

A podiatrist is essentially referred to as a doctor of podiatric medicine (DPM)—a medical specialty that focuses on the diagnoses and treatment of the entire range of conditions affecting the foot, ankle, and all other areas of the lower leg.

For one to become a qualified podiatrist, they must complete the following educational requirements:

  • Four years of undergraduate school
  • Four years of rigorous training at an accredited podiatric medical school
  • Three to four years of residency in foot and ankle surgery

For a person to have proof that they have completed the credentialing process, they must earn board certification, for which they must pass two podiatric board qualification exams in addition to their education, training, and experience. The American Board of Podiatric Medicine (ABPM) and the American Board of Foot and Ankle Surgery (ABFAS) are the certifying boards for the field.

Podiatry has various subspecialties.  A podiatrist can subspecialize in podiatric sports medicine, podiatric dermatology, podiatric wound care, diabetic foot care, among others.

The following are some of the things a podiatrist does in the office on an ordinary day:

  • Provide treatment for foot disorders and deformities (e.g., corns, calluses, bunions, etc.), diabetic foot problems, skin and nail diseases, abscesses, injuries (e.g., plantar fasciitis, fractures, etc.) – While podiatrists are highly trained in surgical interventions, they are more inclined to rely on conservative treatment modalities and only recommend surgery as a last-resort intervention.
  • Design braces, orthotics, and strappings to correct deformities as well as flexible casting for proper immobilization of the foot or ankle in cases of injuries, such as fractures and sprains
  • Provide preventive care, especially for patients at risk for diabetic foot problems- Podiatrists also educate patients about proper foot and ankle biomechanics, walking patterns, and balance to minimize their risk for injuries
  • Refer patients to other specialists when they suspect the symptoms that they observe in the feet signify underlying chronic systemic issues, such as diabetes, or other problems, such as arthritis, kidney disease, or heart disease.

What Is an Orthopedist?

An orthopedist is a medical physician whose focus is on the diagnoses and treatment of problems affecting not just the lower extremity but the entire musculoskeletal system—the bones, joints, muscles, ligaments, tendons, and other related structures in the body.

For a person to become a qualified orthopedist, they must complete the following educational requirements:

  • Four years of undergraduate school
  • Four years of training at an accredited medical school
  • Five years of generalized orthopedic surgical residency training

An orthopedist can either practice general orthopedics or specialize in sports medicine, in pediatrics, or in treating specific areas of the body, namely the foot and ankle, hand and wrist, knee, hip, shoulder, or spine.

For an orthopedist to be qualified to provide both non-surgical and surgical care for foot and ankle conditions, they must complete an additional year of fellowship training.

The bottom line is unless an orthopedist specializes in foot and ankle care, working with a podiatrist remains your best bet for your foot or ankle problem.

Trusted Podiatrist in Cincinnati, OH

At Cincinnati Foot & Ankle Care, Dr. Amy Masowick and all of the other highly credentialed podiatrists on our team have established an excellent reputation for their compassionate approach to care and the proven-effective solutions they offer for the gamut of foot and ankle problems—from simple to complex.

To learn more about our services or to schedule a consultation with Dr. Masowick or one of our other podiatrists, call us at our clinic nearest you or use our convenient appointment request form. We look forward to serving you soon!