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What is the Difference Between a Podiatrist and an Orthopedist?

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The feet and ankles are parts of the human body that are both complex and widely used. They can also experience their share of problems due to their heavy usage. However, those with foot and ankle disorders may have difficulty in deciding whether to seek treatment from a podiatrist or an orthopedist.

Podiatrists
Both podiatrists and orthopedists are qualified health specialists and are required to complete a rigorous period of schooling, with four years of undergraduate study before beginning their medical training. However, podiatrists are not medical doctors. They will instead receive four years of education at a podiatric medical school before performing another three or four years of residency training. The sphere of the treatment they provide is limited only to the ankle and foot areas. Podiatrists often treat ingrown toenails, calluses, fallen arches, heel spurs and problems related to abuse or injury. They may employ surgical methods and may also treat such underlying health issues as diabetes, provided they are related to the foot or ankle problem.
Orthopedists
An orthopedist, or orthopedic surgeon, is a medical doctor. After their graduation from an accredited medical school, orthopedists will usually go through about five years of residency training and may also complete a fellowship dedicated to treating specific disorders. In addition to dealing with some of the same issues as podiatrists, orthopedists have the authority to treat the entire body. This can be beneficial in cases where foot and ankle problems originate from the hip or lower back areas. Specific to problems in the extremities, orthopedists may turn their attention to the underlying bones, ligaments, muscles and tendons.

The majority of those who experience foot and ankle disorders usually opt to see podiatrists for their initial care. However, it’s important to first identify symptoms and the circumstances leading up to the problems before deciding which specialist is best suited: podiatrist or orthopedist.

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