Confident orthopedic doctor examines young girl's sprained foot. The girl's mom is standing next to the patient.

When it comes to your foot and ankle, you need to be sure you have solid footing, so to speak. These two parts of your body are highly intricate, with 26 bones, 33 joints, and more than 100 muscles, tendons, and ligaments all working in collective cooperation. When you need help in this area, you definitely want to see someone with highly specialized knowledge and experience.

At Great Lakes Orthopaedic Center (GLOC) here in northern Michigan, our specialists are your answer––we have both board-certified podiatrists and board-certified orthopaedic foot and ankle surgeons who can successfully assess and treat whatever issue you may have.

What’s the Difference?

Since both podiatrists and orthopaedic foot and ankle surgeons are specialists handling the same area of your body, how do you know which one to see? Is there a difference between the two?

It is true a podiatrist and an orthodpaedic foot and ankle surgeon both minister to the same body region, meaning they share some overlap. They both are well educated and disciplined in surgery. And they both understand bones. But moving past these broader similarities, there are differences between the two specialists and their training. Taking a look at these dissimilarities may help you decide who you should consult for your particular foot or ankle problem.


Podiatrists treat bones, soft tissues, and joints in the foot and ankle, as well as other biomechanical and skin conditions. They have a degree in Doctor of Podiatric Medicine (DPM) and have specialized training in medicine as it relates to the foot. Their formal education conventionally follows this path:

• Undergraduate school––four years
• Accredited podiatric medical school––four years
• Foot and ankle surgical residency training––three to four years

Upon completing their residencies, some foot and ankle surgeons receive additional training in specific areas via fellowships. Following this education and testing, podiatrists may be eligible for board certification from the American Board of Podiatric Medicine (ABPM) and/or American Board of Foot and Ankle Surgery (ABFAS).

Podiatrists spend the majority of their studies and training on the foot and ankle. They typically treat foot and ankle issues with nonsurgical approaches first, then switch to surgery if the other methods have not addressed the problem. Some of the areas podiatrists may treat include foot problems related to arthritis, gout, diabetes, other systemic illnesses, ingrown toenails, nail fungus, corns, calluses, fallen arches, neuromas, plantar fasciitis heel spurs, and minor injuries.

Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Surgeons

Orthopaedic surgeons treat the entire musculoskeletal system, which includes your bones, muscles, joints, ligaments, tendons, and related anatomy. Orthopaedic foot and ankle surgeons then focus primarily on the foot, ankle, and lower leg. They are medical doctors with either a Doctor of Medicine (MD) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) degree.

Their formal education conventionally follows this path:

• Undergraduate school––four years
• Accredited medical school––four years
• Generalized orthopaedic surgical residency training––five years
• Fellowship dedicated to treatment of foot and ankle disorders––one year

Following this education and testing, orthopaedic foot and ankle surgeons are eligible for board certification from the American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery (ABOS).

Foot and ankle orthopaedic surgeons are medical doctors — MDs and DOs who have completed four years of medical school, five years of residency training in orthopaedic surgery, and a year or more of advanced fellowship training in foot and ankle care. They are highly qualified physicians who are trained to care for a full spectrum of medical issues. Some of the areas orthopaedic foot and ankle surgeons may treat include fractures, ankle sprains, Achilles tendinitis and ruptures, osteoarthritis of the foot and ankle, ligament and tendon tears, osteochondral lesions of the talus, flat foot deformity, high arches, Lisfranc injuries, bunions, hallux rigidus, Morton’s neuroma, sesamoid injuries, hammer toes, Charcot arthropathy, Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease and other problems.

If you have some confusion about the distinctions between these two types of specialists, you are not alone. As already pointed out, there are several overlaps between the two, as they are both well qualified to both surgically and nonsurgically treat foot and ankle conditions. Feel free to call us at GLOC at 800.203.0044 to discuss who we think would be best suited for your particular situation.

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