There are important patient benefits to using a board certified, fellowship trained orthopedic surgeon to treat foots and ankle pain and conditions. The foot and ankle are among the most complex parts of the musculoskeletal system as they support the weight of the entire human body. Many years of education, training and experience are necessary to become an expert in treating foot and ankle problems. While both podiatrists and foot and ankle surgeons are specialists in treating foot and ankle conditions, there are some differences between them.
Years of Training: A podiatrist completes 4 years of podiatry school and then 2-3 years of residency training, which is a total of 6-7 of training. A foot & ankle orthopedic surgeon must complete 4 years of medical school, then 5-6 years of orthopedic residency training, and 1 year of specialized training in foot and ankle conditions, which is a total of more than 10 years of training.
Conditions Treated: A podiatrist generally treats conditions isolated to the foot and ankle such as ingrown toenails, calluses, heel spurs, flat feet, and diabetic foot and foot problems related to systemic illness. A foot and ankle orthopedic surgeon is trained to handle minor as well as complex injuries or deformities of the foot and ankle that might impact the other joints including the knee, hip, and spine. They also have a better understanding of how an injury in another part of the skeleton can affect the foot and ankle.
Surgery Experience: Foot and ankle surgeons generally undergo a large portion of their training in trauma centers treating severe injuries and therefore tend to have more experience in surgery as compared to a podiatrist. However, they are also well trained in conservative foot care and do exhaust all non-surgical options including activity modification, medications, physical therapy, and bracing before recommending surgery.