How to Choose a Foot Doctor

Differences Between Orthopedic Foot Specialists & Podiatrists

The foot and ankle make up one of the most complex areas of the human musculoskeletal system. It's no wonder that foot specialists need years of specialized training and education to practice medicine related to the foot, ankle and lower leg. Orthopedic foot specialists and podiatrists treat many of the same conditions, but orthopedic foot doctors have a higher level of training and education.

Orthopedic foot and ankle physicians are medical doctors (MDs or DOs). After graduating from college, they attend four years of medical school, complete rotations in all areas of medicine, then complete a five-year residency in their subspecialty. Orthopedic foot specialists go even farther and complete fellowship training in foot and ankle treatment. OPA is proud to have Alaska's only fellowship-trained foot and ankle surgeon, Eugene Chang, MD, who is also fellowship trained in sports medicine.

A podiatrist is a doctor of podiatric medicine (DPM). They attend podiatric medical college for four years, then a three- or four-year residency. Like all other medical professionals, both MDs and podiatrists must pass state board exams and maintain good standing with the state licensing board.

Which Is Better — Orthopedic Foot Doctor or Podiatrist?

While podiatrists have spent their entire training focused solely on the feet and ankles, orthopedic foot and ankle surgeons have the advantage of being more fully versed in all areas of the human body — such as heart conditions, diabetes and more — and may have a better understanding of other factors that could contribute to patient care. Orthopedic surgeons typically have more surgical training and experience as well.

Podiatrists typically treat ingrown toenails, calluses, fallen arches, heel spurs, deformities of the feet, bunions and some foot and ankle injuries. Some podiatrists perform surgery.

Orthopedists can also treat bunions, heel spurs and fallen arches and much more, including bone fractures and the bone’s supporting muscles, tendons, ligaments and soft tissues.

Why go to a surgeon if I don't need foot surgery?

A good surgeon knows when not to operate. Non-surgical treatments should always be considered first. These may include specific exercises, physical therapy, braces, orthotics and more.

Orthopedic surgeons are trained to determine the root of the problem, including other bones, soft tissues, diseases and other issues that may be contributing to it. Knowing the whole picture helps determine the best solution, be it medication, physical therapy, braces or surgery.