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Podiatrist vs. Orthopedist

Feb 18, 2020

Podiatrist vs. OrthopedistIf you have ever experienced a foot or ankle injury, you might have wondered whether you should see a podiatrist or an orthopedist. Many of the same conditions can be treated by both podiatrists and orthopedists, though their biggest differences come with their medical training and treatment planning. While podiatrists emphasize their specialization from the ankle down, orthopedists emphasize their ability to treat the whole patient.

Medical Training

A podiatrist is a medical doctor who attended medical school and also received specialized training on the foot, ankle, and lower leg.

A podiatrist studies the foot and ankle throughout medical school and residency. An orthopedist is a medical doctor who attended medical school and received specialized training in the musculoskeletal system from the diagnosis of diseases to the prevention of injury to rehabilitation.

Orthopedists can also choose to specialize in specific areas of the body, such as the foot and ankle, which would require additional advanced training in orthopedic foot treatment.

Treatment Planning

While the actual treatments may be very similar, podiatrists and orthopedists approach treatment planning from different perspectives. For example, a patient who presents with pain in the foot would likely experience different diagnostic and treatment approaches from a podiatrist versus an orthopedist.

A podiatrist would be able to assist the patient because their presenting symptoms are related to their area of specialization. An orthopedist would also be able to assist the patient and would likely approach the patient’s symptoms from a holistic perspective, like how other parts of the body may be contributing to the pain.

This explains why a car accident orthopedist might be a better option for foot pain after a car accident, whereas a podiatrist might be good for an ankle sprain that occured while playing basketball.  A car accident affects the entire body, while the ankle sprain is localized to the ankle and foot.

Surgical Approach

Both podiatrists and orthopedists work with patients with non-surgical treatment approaches unless absolutely necessary. However, if surgery is required, there are differences in the surgical experience from both doctors.

First, not all podiatrists are qualified to perform surgery and are not trained in surgical procedures. Orthopedic surgeons are able to perform surgery to address a variety of musculoskeletal injuries, though only some may have done additional training in foot and ankle surgery.

It is always important to find out the surgical experience and approach of your doctor.

Strengths and Limitations

On the surface, a podiatrist may sound like the best option for someone with foot pain because they specialize in ankle and foot conditions. All of a podiatrist’s medical education has been from the perspective of the foot and lower leg, so they have extensive knowledge and understanding of those details.

An orthopedist would highlight their comprehensive approach to pain in the body, by not only addressing the area of concern but also how connecting musculature and tissues have an effect on the orthopedic issue. Orthopedists also have a more generalized background in medicine and may choose to specialize with additional training and education.

Both podiatrists and orthopedists are moving toward working in multidisciplinary practices where a comprehensive approach to patients is all handled under one roof.

AICA Orthopedic Foot Specialists

At AICA, we pride ourselves in offering a multidisciplinary approach to pain and injury, from diagnosis to treatment to rehabilitation. Our medical team includes orthopedic specialists, neurologists, chiropractors, and physical therapists who are all highly qualified and experienced in treating a variety of foot, ankle, and lower leg pain and injuries, in addition to pain and injury in all other areas of the body.

Our foot specialists recognize how much foot pain or injury can impact your daily life and our goal is to identify the root of the pain and how all aspects of the body may be affected.

You may be treated by an AICA orthopedic doctor who also recommends that you meet with other orthopedic team members for a comprehensive approach to your treatment. It may be beneficial to also meet with one of our physical therapists for support in rehabilitation and exercises to strengthen and improve the foot and surrounding areas.

We rely on our multi-specialty approach for each patient’s treatment plan to ensure you can get back to your daily activities and experience comprehensive long-term relief. If your foot pain or injury requires surgery, our orthopedic foot surgeons are highly qualified to operate and coordinate with other AICA doctors. Our goal to provide you with a complete treatment plan so you can experience overall healing. Contact us today!


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