Get the Facts: Podiatrists vs. Orthopedic Surgeons

Get the Facts: Podiatrists vs. Orthopedic Surgeons

When faced with foot or ankle pain from conditions such as bunions, heel spurs, hammertoe or tarsal tunnel syndrome, patients care more about relief than about what type of medical professional delivers the treatment. However, to make an informed decision about foot and ankle treatment, it pays to know the difference between a podiatrist and an orthopedic surgeon.

Podiatrists: Popular, Conservative Pain Relief

Medical statistics on treatment for foot and ankle disorders currently reflects patient preference for podiatrists (39% vs. 15% choosing orthopedists). Podiatrists strictly focus on treatment for feet and ankles, including bones, soft tissue, joints, skin and overall ease of mobility. While treatment outcomes may be equally effective, many patients prefer a podiatrist who has specialized training for disorders affecting only the foot and ankle (rather than the bones/joints of the entire body as with an orthopedic surgeon).

A podiatrist is a Doctor of Podiatric Medicine (DPM). Podiatry education includes at least four years of undergraduate school, four years of podiatric medical school, and three to four years of surgical residency training aimed at treating only foot and ankle disorders. Podiatrists have knowledge of orthotics, foot/ankle braces, biomechanics, custom shoes, and proper balance. They will be well acquainted with the wide range of symptoms, diseases, disorders and treatments for problems with your heels, ankles, toes and every part of the foot.

Because they have such an extensive knowledge of the foot and ankle, podiatrists may favor conservative medical treatments first. If less invasive treatments prove unsuccessful, surgery may be the next step. Consult with a podiatrist to determine if they are trained in surgical solutions, as not every DPM does foot and ankle surgery.

Every podiatrist must pass state board examinations before they are licensed do any type of foot and ankle surgery. For example, Dr. Ken Legel, Dallas podiatrist, is board certified in foot surgery, as well as reconstructive rearfoot and ankle surgery.

Orthopedic Surgeons Treat Bones and Joints of the Entire Body

Although orthopedic surgeons may have the same undergraduate and medical school education as podiatrists, their surgical residency training typically covers generalized orthopedic conditions. Orthopedic surgeons may also complete another year of education on specific foot and ankle disorders.

In this area of medical specialization, the doctors (who may be MDs or DOs) have broad generalized medical training with somewhat less focus on conditions surrounding the feet and ankles. Like podiatrists, orthopedic surgeons must be licensed and certified in their individual field. As the title suggests, orthopedic surgeons may also be more prone to prescribe surgery as a way to treat painful foot and ankle disorders.

Ask Before Choosing a Doctor

In every case, no matter what your medical condition, it’s important to learn as much as you can about your doctor’s qualifications and specialty training. Look for experienced medical professionals who understand your foot and ankle problems, and who take your overall health concerns into consideration.

For information about Dallas podiatrists versus orthopedic surgeons, contact Dr. Ken Legal and the staff at Advanced Foot and Ankle Care Specialists. Schedule an appointment by calling (214) 366-4600.