An orthopedic surgeon treats disorders of the bones, the muscles and the connective tissue that links the two. Do not let the word "surgeon" fool you: An orthopedic surgeon will exhaust all conservative treatment options before they opt for surgery.Some orthopedic surgeons treat all parts of the body, while others specialize even further. Dr. Matthew…
Matthew D. Barber: Differences Between Orthopedic Surgeons and Podiatrists
An orthopedic surgeon and a podiatrist have a lot in common, so it is not surprising as to why you might want to find out the difference between the two.
When you sustain a foot injury or develop a problem in your feet, you have to navigate the maze that is the medical bureaucracy. This would be difficult enough even with healthy feet, so here is some useful information that will hopefully help you on your journey back to good health.
What is an orthopedic surgeon, and what do they treat?
An orthopedic surgeon is a doctor that concentrates on the treatment of the bones, the muscles and the connective tissues that connect the two. It takes more than ten years to become an orthopedic surgeon.
These specialists start off at medical school with the rest of the doctors. Once they graduate, they go on to train in general surgery and to specialize in the musculoskeletal system. This takes several years, during which time these doctors learn how to treat the injuries and disorders that affect the muscles and bones.
An orthopedic surgeon has the following responsibilities:
- Evaluation and diagnosis of a patient, including going through their medical history or ordering medical tests
- Creating a treatment plan and adjusting it as the patient progresses
- Performing surgical procedures on ailing muscles, connective tissue and bones
- Prescribing medication and therapeutic options like physiotherapy
Some orthopedic surgeons specialize even further. Some specialize in sports medicine, while others specialize in musculoskeletal disorders and deformities. There are also orthopedic surgeons that specialize in the treatment of the feet.
What is a podiatrist, and what do they treat?
A podiatrist has a different medical degree than an orthopedic surgeon. They do not graduate with an MD. Instead, they graduate with a Doctor of Podiatric Medicine or DPM.
To graduate as a podiatrist, a person needs to study an undergraduate course that takes at least three years to complete. From the get-go, a podiatrist will specialize in the treatment of the foot. They will graduate and complete a residency that also specializes in the foot and lower leg.
A podiatrist performs the following roles:
- Evaluation and diagnosis of a patient
- Where needed, referring cases to an appropriate specialist
- Creating a treatment plan and adjusting it to match the patient’s progress
- Treating skin problems and infections on the feet
- Prescribing medication and therapeutic options like physiotherapy or orthotics
- Guiding and advising patients on the proper care of their feet
- Providing routine foot care for the patients that need it
How to choose the right specialist
Depending on a patient’s medical problem, a primary physician can give their patient a referral to an orthopedic surgeon or a podiatrist. If the patient is a diabetic who needs regular care for their feet, then their doctor will link them to a podiatrist. The physician will do the same for a person with a bad case of bunions.
If the patient has a severe problem like a deformed foot, a broken ankle or a torn muscle, then the doctor will refer them to an orthopedic surgeon.
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