Podiatrist or Orthopaedic Physician?
Many times, patients aren’t clear about whether they should see an orthopedic surgeon or a podiatrist for their foot and ankle problems. Here are some things to consider.
There are many different types of healthcare providers that evaluate and treat conditions of the feet. These include podiatrists, orthopedic surgeons, primary care physicians, and physical therapists. While podiatrists and orthopedic surgeons treat many of the same conditions, their training is very different.
A podiatrist is a Doctor of Podiatric Medicine (DPM) with specialized training to treat disorders of the foot and ankle. Typically, they have the following formal education:
- Four years of undergraduate school
- Four years at an accredited podiatric medical school, where they receive medical training plus specialized training on the foot, ankle, and lower leg
- Three to four years of foot and ankle surgical residency training
An orthopedic surgeon is a medical doctor (who is an M.D. (Doctor of Medicine) or a D.O. (Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine). They are trained to treat the entire musculoskeletal system, not just one extremity. Orthopedics is the diagnosis, treatment, rehabilitation, and prevention of injuries and diseases in your musculoskeletal system. Many orthopedic physicians specialize in the treatment of the foot and ankle. All Florida Orthopaedic Institute foot and ankle physicians are fellowship-trained in this specialty.
All foot and ankle physicians at Florida Orthopaedic Institute have the following formal education:
- Four years of undergraduate school
- Four years at an accredited medical school
- Five years of generalized orthopedic surgical residency training
- Additional fellowship training dedicated to the treatment of foot and ankle disorders
Like many podiatrists, foot and ankle physicians at Florida Orthopaedic Institute have a philosophy to first try all appropriate nonsurgical methods to increase mobility and function. This may include medication, shoe modifications, bracing, injections, and physical therapy. Florida Orthopaedic Institute provides all these services. If efforts are unsuccessful, then, and only then, do they suggest surgery.
When surgery is indicated, the operative experience of the surgeon is critical. With the largest combined experience in Florida, the Florida Orthopaedic Institute team has performed tens of thousands of these procedures including flat foot corrections, ankle and subtalar fusions, midfoot osteotomies, bunion surgery, soft tissue reconstructions, as well as fracture reconstruction.
While each doctor is different, orthopedic surgeons have a better general medical background and more surgical expertise. Some podiatrists do not do surgery or are not trained in the latest surgical techniques, while others are well trained to perform complicated reconstructive surgeries.
Who to Pick?
Consider picking a foot and ankle specialist according to their skills and expertise. In 2017, Florida Orthopaedic Institute surgeons performed over 1,000 foot and ankle procedures.
With over 20 years of experience, performing thousands of ankle fusions, triple arthrodeses, subtalar fusions and over 300 total ankle replacements, Florida Orthopaedic Institute surgeons are leaders in the field. Since 1989, Florida Orthopaedic Institute surgeons have helped thousands of patients get back on their feet with Tampa Bay’s most advanced orthopedic foot and ankle treatment center. Knowledgeable and experienced physicians, therapists and nurses work in concert to cover the total spectrum of foot and ankle musculoskeletal care. Whether tendon, ligament, bone injuries, arthritis, or acute/chronic conditions, surgeons are fellowship trained and have extensive knowledge in the management of all conditions affecting the foot, ankle and lower leg.
The foot and ankle surgeons at Florida Orthopaedic Institute are well-respected fracture specialists, managing the most complex of these problems with a national and international reputation. Many of the devices used to treat these injuries (plates, screws and intramedullary nails) were developed by members of the team. This expertise is unique in the region and allows for managing problems with predictable outcomes, as well as teaching others through courses, lectures, and publications.
Ankle Arthritis is a rather common problem which requires careful management to maintain motion while minimizing pain. The first line of treatment remains oral medications, but stem cell injections are frequently used by the staff to reduce the inflammation within the ankle that causes the pain. When this is not effective, arthroscopy may be used to remove irritating tissue.
These minimally invasive procedures are designed to prevent the need for an open procedure. But when arthritic pain and deformity prevents patients from maintaining a normal lifestyle, either a fusion or an ankle replacement is required.
Total Ankle Replacement
In 1995, the Agility® total ankle prosthesis became available in the U.S. with Florida Orthopaedic Institute surgeons involved in design, teaching, and evaluation of the implant. Later that year, a European ankle known as the S.T.A.R.® was released, and again Florida Orthopaedic Institute surgeons were involved in the first trial of that prosthesis in the U.S.
Since that time, FOI surgeons (all trained on total ankle replacements) have performed hundreds of replacements. With over 20 years of experience, the foot and ankle surgeons of Florida Orthopaedic Institute remain leaders in the field.
For those patients that are not candidates for an ankle replacement, ankle fusions remain the gold standard. Patients can walk without a limp using modern techniques to remove minimal amounts of bone and position the ankle so the joint below moves well.
Revisions & Referrals
Because of the combined expertise of the foot and ankle surgeons, as well as their national reputation, patients are referred not only locally, but from all over the country. Many of the referrals are patients with significant post-surgical complications including infections, failed joint replacements, poorly positioned fusions, and non-healed fractures. These patients are sent to Florida Orthopaedic Institute for definitive solutions to their problems, and in most cases the Florida Orthopaedic Institute surgeons are able to improve their lives. This ability to solve complex problems and help patients is the driving force behind maintaining the high quality of care offered, and why Florida Orthopaedic Institute is a regional and national referral center.
Specialties include the treatment of:
- Achilles Tendon Injuries
- Chronic Ankle Ligament Injuries
- Adult Acquired Flatfoot
- Bunion Surgery
- Hammer Toe
- Morton’s Neuroma
- Stem Cell Injections
- Arthritis of the Foot and Ankle
- Fractures of the Foot and Ankle
- Total Ankle Arthroplasty (Ankle Replacement)