What’s the Difference Between a Foot and Ankle Surgeon and a Podiatrist?

What’s the Difference Between a Foot and Ankle Surgeon and a Podiatrist?

Both Foot and Ankle Surgeons and Podiatrists play essential roles in the healthcare system, specializing in the diagnosis, treatment, and management of conditions related to the feet and ankles.  

Foot and Ankle Surgeon: 

A Foot and Ankle Surgeon is a medical doctor (MD or DO) who specializes in the surgical and nonsurgical treatment of conditions and injuries affecting the feet and ankles. They have extensive training in orthopedic surgery and focus on diagnosing, managing, and performing surgical interventions for a wide range of musculoskeletal issues related to the lower extremities.


A Podiatrist, also known as a Doctor of Podiatric Medicine (DPM), is a healthcare professional with specialized training in the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of foot, ankle, and lower extremity conditions. Podiatrists are experts in podiatric medicine and surgery and provide comprehensive care for various foot-related problems, ranging from routine foot care to surgical procedures.

A Foot and Ankle Surgeon and a Podiatrist are both healthcare professionals who specialize in treating conditions related to the feet and ankles, but they have distinct differences in terms of their training, scope of practice, and the types of patients they typically see. 

Below is an extensive analysis highlighting the distinctions between the two:

  • Education and Training:
      • Podiatrist: Podiatrists are doctors of podiatric medicine (DPM) who undergo specialized training in podiatry after completing a bachelor's degree. This typically involves a four-year doctoral program at a podiatric medical school. They receive training in various aspects of foot and ankle care, including anatomy, biomechanics, pharmacology, and surgery. After graduation, podiatrists may choose to complete a residency program for additional specialized training.
      • Foot and Ankle Surgeon: Foot and ankle surgeons, also known as orthopedic surgeons or orthopedic foot and ankle specialists, are medical doctors (MDs or DOs) who specialize in orthopedic surgery. They complete a more extensive medical education, including a four-year undergraduate degree, followed by four years of medical school. After medical school, they typically complete a five-year orthopedic surgery residency, which covers various aspects of musculoskeletal medicine, including the entire body, not just the feet and ankles. Some orthopedic surgeons may also pursue additional fellowship training specifically in foot and ankle surgery.
  • Scope of Practice:
      • Podiatrist: Podiatrists primarily focus on diagnosing, treating, and preventing conditions that affect the feet, ankles, and lower extremities. They are experts in conditions such as bunions, ingrown toenails, plantar fasciitis, diabetic foot care, and more. Podiatrists can also perform surgeries related to the feet and ankles, including minor procedures such as toenail removal and bunion surgery.
      • Foot and Ankle Surgeon: Foot and ankle surgeons are orthopedic specialists who can diagnose and treat a wide range of conditions related to the musculoskeletal system of the feet and ankles. They have a broader scope of practice, encompassing not only podiatric issues but also orthopedic conditions that affect the lower extremities. They are trained to perform complex surgical procedures, including joint replacements, fracture repairs, and reconstructive surgeries for severe injuries or deformities.
  • Patient Population:
      • Podiatrist: Podiatrists typically see a diverse patient population, including individuals with routine foot and ankle issues, sports injuries, and diabetic foot complications. They often serve as the first point of contact for many patients seeking foot care.
      • Foot and Ankle Surgeon: Foot and ankle surgeons often see patients with more complex and advanced conditions. They are often referred patients who require specialized surgical intervention or have orthopedic-related issues in addition to podiatric concerns.
  • Collaboration:
    • Podiatrist: Podiatrists may collaborate with other healthcare providers, such as primary care physicians and orthopedic surgeons, when necessary, to provide comprehensive care for their patients.
    • Foot and Ankle Surgeon: Foot and ankle surgeons may collaborate with podiatrists, physical therapists, and other specialists to address complex cases that require multidisciplinary care.

In summary, while both Foot and Ankle Surgeons and Podiatrists specialize in the care of the feet and ankles, their training, scope of practice, and patient populations differ. Podiatrists focus primarily on podiatric issues and may perform surgical procedures, while Foot and Ankle Surgeons have a broader orthopedic background and are trained to handle more complex surgical cases involving the lower extremities. Patients seeking care for foot and ankle conditions should choose their healthcare provider based on the specific nature and severity of their condition.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Foot and Ankle Surgeons and Podiatrists:

  1. What is the main difference between a Foot and Ankle Surgeon and a Podiatrist?
  • A Foot and Ankle Surgeon is an orthopedic specialist with advanced training in surgical procedures for the feet and ankles, while a Podiatrist is a doctor of podiatric medicine who focuses on the non-surgical treatment of foot and ankle conditions.
  1. When should I see a Podiatrist?
  • You should see a Podiatrist if you have foot or ankle pain, discomfort, or a specific condition like bunions, ingrown toenails, heel pain, or fungal infections. They can provide conservative treatments and surgical options when needed.
  1. When should I see a Foot and Ankle Surgeon?
  • You should see a Foot and Ankle Surgeon if you have a more complex foot or ankle issue that may require surgery. This includes conditions like severe deformities, fractures, ligament injuries, or joint problems that haven't responded to conservative treatment.
  1. Are Podiatrists qualified to perform surgery?
  • Yes, Podiatrists are qualified to perform surgery, particularly minor surgical procedures like toenail removal, bunion surgery, and wart removal. However, they may refer more complex cases to Foot and Ankle Surgeons.
  1. What types of surgeries do Foot and Ankle Surgeons perform?
  • Foot and Ankle Surgeons perform a wide range of surgeries, including joint replacements, reconstructive surgeries, Achilles tendon repairs, fracture fixations, and corrections of severe deformities like flat feet.
  1. Do I need a referral to see a Foot and Ankle Surgeon or a Podiatrist?
  • In many cases, you do not need a referral to see a Podiatrist. However, for certain insurance plans or complex cases, a referral from your primary care physician or another specialist may be required. Foot and Ankle Surgeons typically require referrals for consultation.
  1. What is the recovery time for foot or ankle surgery?
  • The duration of recovery varies based on both the surgical procedure and the unique characteristics of the patient. This period can span from several weeks to several months. Your surgeon or podiatrist will furnish you with precise directives and anticipations concerning your recuperation.
  1. Are there any risks associated with foot and ankle surgery?
  • Like any surgery, foot and ankle surgery carries risks, including infection, blood clots, and complications related to anesthesia. Your surgeon will discuss these risks with you and take steps to minimize them.
  1. Can Podiatrists provide orthotics or custom shoe inserts?
  • Yes, Podiatrists can assess your foot structure and gait and provide orthotics or custom shoe inserts to address issues like flat feet, plantar fasciitis, and gait abnormalities.
  1. What can I do to maintain good foot and ankle health?
  • To maintain good foot and ankle health, practice proper foot hygiene, wear comfortable and supportive footwear, maintain a healthy weight, and seek prompt medical attention for any foot or ankle concerns.