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Podiatrist or Orthopedist

Choosing Between a Podiatrist or an Orthopedist

In the case of a foot or ankle injury, many people immediately turn to their family physician for help. If the injury appears to be more serious or painful, a trip to the emergency room may instead be the inclined course of action. 

While these choices are understandable, many people don’t recognize that the podiatrist or podiatric surgeon is the most qualified medical professional available to treat a foot or ankle injury or condition.

Depending on the extent of injury and the doctors available in his or her network, your primary physician may refer you to a podiatrist, podiatric surgeon, or orthopedic surgeon. Here’s how you can determine which is right for you.


  • A podiatrist, or foot doctor, is a Doctor of Podiatric Medicine (DPM), meaning he or she has graduated from a four-year program at a college of podiatric medicine.
  • Podiatrists are the only medical specialists exclusively educated, trained, licensed, and certified in treating the foot and ankle.
  • Podiatrists are thoroughly trained in the biomechanics, conditions and diseases of the foot and ankle.

Podiatric Surgeon

  • A podiatric surgeon is a Doctor of Podiatric Medicine who has also completed a hospital residency with training in all facets of foot and ankle surgery.
  • Podiatric surgeons may have also completed additional training with a fellowship in specialized areas, such as diabetic limb salvage.
  • Podiatric surgeons are the most qualified surgeons to correct deformities and treat painful conditions of the foot and ankle, such as bunions.

Orthopedic Surgeon

  • An orthopedic surgeon provides treatment and care for the entire body’s musculoskeletal system, which involves all of the body’s bones, joints, ligaments, muscles, nerves, and tendons.
  • Some orthopedic surgeons specialize in treating the foot and ankle, while others specialize in treating other parts of the body, such as the hands or spine.
  • Orthopedic surgeons are licensed to perform surgery in a hospital setting.

Those looking at orthopedic surgeons for care should be sure to select a physician who specializes in the foot and ankle.  

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