Orthopedic Surgeon vs. Podiatrist

When you’re facing foot or ankle issues, knowing whether to consult an orthopedic surgeon or a podiatrist can be confusing. Here’s a simplified guide to help you understand the main differences between these two specialists:



Doctor of Podiatric Medicine (DPM) with a three-year residency in podiatric medicine and surgery. Some pursue further specialization through fellowships. Due to the specificity of their training from beginning to end, there is no other healthcare provider that has the depth and breadth of experience to fully and comprehensively treat foot and ankle conditions.


Specifically focuses on the foot, ankle, and lower leg.

Conditions Treated

Specialize in diagnosing and treating a wide range of injuries, diseases and other conditions of the foot and ankle. From specific problems like bunions, hammertoes, neuroma pain and heel pain to more common conditions such as diabetic foot care, fungal nails and structural deformities such as flat feet.

Board Certification

Doctors of Podiatric Medicine (DPMs), or podiatrists, possess specialized education and training that qualify them to diagnose and manage conditions of the foot, ankle, and related leg structures. Their unique qualifications stem from their focused educational background, comprehensive training, and extensive experience in foot and ankle care.

When it comes to board certification, a significant number of APMA (American Podiatric Medical Association) members who are actively practicing hold board certification status. This certification is recognized as a distinguished achievement, signifying that the podiatrist has reached a certain level of expertise and competence. This is determined through the completion of advanced training, accumulation of specific clinical experiences, and success in passing rigorous examinations. The American Board of Foot and Ankle Surgery (ABFAS) is responsible for certifying podiatrists in the field of foot and ankle surgery. Meanwhile, the American Board of Podiatric Medicine (ABPM) certifies professionals in the areas of podiatric orthopedics and primary podiatric medicine.

When to See a Podiatrist

Athletic injuries, foot deformities, superficial and/or cosmetic foot concerns, nail concerns, diabetic care and treatment of all foot and ankle pain.


Orthopedic Surgeon

For those seeking more personalized advice, Dr. Horwitz offers virtual consultations through a dedicated page. This platform provides an opportunity for tailored recommendations based on your unique foot structure and lifestyle needs. Additionally, for more insightful tips and information, you can check out Dr. Horwitz’s informative YouTube videos, which delve into various aspects of foot health and proper footwear.


Medical Doctor (MD) with a five-year residency in orthopedic surgery. Some also complete additional fellowship training.


Focus on the entire musculoskeletal system (bones, muscles, ligaments, tendons, and joints across the body).

Conditions Treated

complex surgeries and conditions affecting multiple areas, including the foot and ankle, as well as issues related to trauma or overall mobility.

When to See an Orthopedic Surgeon

For severe injuries, complex conditions involving multiple parts of the musculoskeletal system, or when complex surgery might be needed.

Deciding Who to See


Opt for a podiatrist for specialized care focused on the foot and ankle, especially for injuries, deformities and advanced corrective surgical treatments. Non surgical care includes preventive diabetic and neuropathy care, skin and nail conditions and routine care for nail and skin conditions of the foot.

Orthopedic Surgeon

Consider if your condition is part of a broader problem affecting more than just your foot or ankle, involves significant trauma, or might need complex surgical intervention.


Both orthopedic surgeons and podiatrists play vital roles in treating foot and ankle conditions, so your choice should depend on the specific nature of your issue and the type of board certifications, experience and expertise required to address it effectively.

While both podiatrists and orthopedic surgeons address similar health issues, their educational backgrounds differ significantly. Despite the overlap in the conditions they treat, orthopedic surgeons emphasize their ability to consider the entire patient, not just the area below the ankle. Many patients, on the other hand, have a strong preference for podiatrists, valuing their focus on pain management and their inclination towards non-surgical treatments initially. According to recent data, approximately 39% of patients opt for a podiatrist’s care, whereas only 15% specifically seek out an orthopedist. The rest receive care from general practitioners and other healthcare providers. Although there are more orthopedic surgeons in general, the number of podiatrists exceeds that of orthopedic surgeons who specialize in foot and ankle issues.

Feet for Life Podiatry provides Board Certified Foot Surgeons with over 35 years experience to the St. Louis community.

For more information about Feet for Life Podiatry visit feetforlife.com.

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