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Understanding the Difference Between a Podiatrist and an Orthopaedist

When you get sick or injured, you naturally seek a doctor’s help. The question is: which doctor should you go to? There are multiple types of doctors that excel in different fields, and it can be confusing to differentiate one from the other. For individuals who have a foot or ankle problem, there are two types of specialists you can generally turn to: podiatrists and orthopaedists.

However, not everyone is aware of what these two are and how the two are distinct from one another. This lack of understanding can hinder your search for an orthopaedist or a podiatrist Singapore patients can rely on among the numerous options across the country. To help you figure out which practitioner is better for you, take a look down below for a quick breakdown of their similarities and differences.

What Is a Podiatrist?

A podiatrist is a doctor of podiatric medicine (DPM), which focuses on foot and ankle care. Any condition, injury, or complications from other health issues concerning the feet and the lower area of the legs fall within the podiatrist’s realm of expertise.

What Do They Treat?

Podiatrists treat different kinds of foot and ankle complications, including:

  • Fractures
  • Sprains and strains
  • Bunions (a condition where the joint at the big toe’s base is dislocated or grows too big)
  • Hammertoes
  • Nail disorders (like infections or ingrown toenail)
  • Arthritis
  • Growing pains
  • Heel spurs (the accumulation of calcium at the heel bone)
  • Calluses
  • Fallen arches (flatfoot)

Treatment and Surgery

A podiatrist can prescribe a variety of treatments that will address your foot condition. Some of these include physical therapy, padding in footwear, casting, medicine, or orthotics.

However, if conservative treatment is ineffective for your current condition, podiatrists can perform surgery as well. A few of the procedures that podiatrists perform include:

  • limb-salvaging (with Charcot foot)
  • reconstructive surgery
  • arthroscopic foot and ankle surgery

After the surgery, the podiatrist will oversee your recovery and may recommend other supports and treatment that can help you heal efficiently.

What Is an Orthopaedist?

An orthopaedist—also known as an orthopaedic doctor—is a physician that specializes in treating the body’s musculoskeletal system. This type of doctor is an expert on the assessment, treatment, and prevention of the ailments, injuries, and conditions that affect the bones, tendons, joints, ligaments, and accompanying nerves.

Some of the common areas of the body they treat are:

  • Foot and ankle
  • Back and hips
  • Neck
  • Shoulder and elbow
  • Knee
  • Hand and wrist

What Do They Treat?

Since an orthopedist is a specialist on the muscles and bones of the body, they treat a wide variety of ailments, such as:

  • Heel spurs
  • Stress fractures
  • Toe fractures
  • Sprains and strains
  • Arthritic damage in the joints
  • Ligament tears
  • Hindfoot fractures
  • Spinal disc injuries
  • Bone tumours
  • Age-related conditions (e.g. osteoporosis)

Treatment and Surgery

Orthopedists prescribe treatment similarly to podiatrists. Depending on the patient’s condition, they will first consider conservative forms of treatment, such as resting, medications, injections, physical therapy, or simply a lifestyle change.

However, if the condition is too severe, orthopedists will recommend the last resort, surgery. Some scenarios where surgery may be needed include hip fractures, joint replacement, and fixing torn ligaments.

How Are a Podiatrist and an Orthopedist Different?

Based on the explanations above, it becomes clear that podiatrists and orthopaedists share many similarities. They both treat orthopaedic conditions that deal with the feet and ankle and are both highly qualified to do so. Indeed, it is not uncommon for podiatrists and orthopedists to work closely when it comes to treating patients and performing surgeries.

The main difference between the two is the area of focus. An orthopedist is trained to assess the whole body’s musculoskeletal system. Meanwhile, the podiatrist’s expertise lies in the feet and ankle area. Moreover, the podiatrist does not only consider this area’s bones, tissues, and joints. The dermatology and biomechanics of the feet and ankles are also among the podiatrist’s concerns.

Which Doctor Should You Go To?

The right answer highly depends on your condition. As a general rule of thumb, you consult with the doctor on the area they specialize in. If you have an injury or condition that affects your feet and ankles, going to a podiatrist may be more effective for you. The podiatrist will be more well-informed on the mechanics and nuances of foot and ankle health. For any other body part with a musculoskeletal health issue, seek an orthopaedic doctor.

Overall, both podiatrists and orthopaedists are highly trained physicians who can address feet and ankle injuries and health issues. Depending on what injury you sustained or the condition you have, you can opt for the type of doctor that best fits your needs.

In Singapore, numerous podiatrists and orthopedists are practising across the country’s many hospitals and clinics. Before settling on one doctor, do your research first and learn about your options. Find a specialist you can work well with and set the healing process in motion.