If you're fed up with your foot pain and you know it's time to see a medical professional, figuring out which one is the right one to see can make your head spin. Are there benefits to seeing a podiatrist vs a chiropractor? Or a podiatrist vs an orthopedist? Luckily, selected a foot care provider doesn't have to be confusing.
There are several types of specialists, each with their own particular perspective on foot care. These include podiatrists, orthopedists, pedorthists, physical therapists and chiropractors. This guide will help you understand the differences between them and help you narrow the search on who to see for foot pain.
When it's time to see a medical provider for your foot pain, you want to go to the right one. Knowing whether to choose a podiatrist vs an orthopedist or a podiatrist vs a chiropractor comes down to understanding what each of them does and hwo they treat their patients:
There is a range of quality care within any profession. Choose carefully and ask around for personal recommendations. For insole and orthotic issues, some of the best foot care practitioners may not be doctors. Let’s take a closer look at each of these foot care providers:
A podiatrist attends 4 years of podiatry school and does a brief residency. Podiatrists are not M.D.s and are not trained in general medicine. They specialize only in feet and ankle disorders, and irregularities like over-pronation, extremely high or low arches, fallen arches (flat feet), and other structural or balance-related issues that cause foot pain.
Podiatrists also diagnose and treat toenail problems, blisters, corns, calluses, foot fungi, heel pain, metatarsal discomfort, foot odor, bunions, foot symptoms associated with gout, diabetes and other conditions.
A certified Doctor of Podiatric Medicine (DPM) can perform surgery on the feet and ankles. Conditions that start and end in the foot are addressed by a Podiatrist. While many podiatrists prescribe custom orthotics, few manufacture them themselves. Usually they cast or scan your feet and have the orthotics made by an outside lab.
Orthopedic surgeons attend medical school for 4 years before practicing in an orthopedic surgical residency program that may last 5 or 6 years, which is followed by another year or two in the sub-specialty of their choice – in this case, surgery of the foot and ankle. As an M.D. the orthopedist has a much broader education and more comprehensive approach to whole body health.
If you have a congenital or functional problem involving your hips, knees or lower back, an orthopedic surgeon will be your go-to professional. They are better equipped to handle more complex issues related to foot pain caused by an injury to the bones, tendons, or muscles in your foot or bone abnormalities from other causes.
As a physician who specializes in the treatment of bones, your orthopedist can diagnose and treat foot bone abnormalities and injuries, which may require resetting, casting, bracing, or surgery.
In addition to realigning and repairing your bones, your orthopedist may assist you in the rehabilitation of your foot, with physical or medicinal therapies.
As the two most common foot care providers, podiatrists and orthopedists are often confused with one another. This is understandable, as many of the treatment options they provide overlap. The key difference of a podiatrist vs an orthopedist is that orthopedists are M.D.s with comprehensive medical training, while podiatrists are trained only on foot and ankle related problems.
Ultimately, deciding if you should see a podiatrist or orthopedist for foot pain is primarily a matter of opinion. Both foot care providers offer similar treatments options and have access to similar equipment.
If you have a provider that you trust, opt for them. If you’re unsure, a general rule of thumb for seeing a podiatrist vs orthopedist is to visit a podiatrist for more specific treatments of the foot and ankle. A foot and ankle focused orthopedist will be more suited for full spectrum issues that involve the hips, knees and shoulders, and feet.
Many painful foot conditions require specialized footwear to address an irregular gait caused by a leg or foot abnormality. A certified pedorthist (C.Ped) is trained to treat foot and leg problems by prescribing and or fabricating orthotic inserts, modified shoes, and other pedorthic devices.
Your pedorthist will work with your physician to select or create, fit, and manage the appropriate pedorthic equipment to provide your foot or leg with the support needed as a non-surgical intervention to help mitigate your foot pain.
While a pedorthist has less formal training than a podiatrist or orthopedic surgeon, their daily work of correcting gait and alignment problems gives many pedorthists a hands-on approach that more sophisticated practitioners lack.
Many pedorthists fabricate custom insoles and orthotics in their own facilities. This is an advantage for the patient, as modifications to insoles and orthotics can be done quickly on-site.
A physical therapist (Doctor of Physical Therapy) works with you to address the biomechanics of foot pain caused by illness, deformity, or injury. A DPT specializing in foot and ankle dysfunction will assist you in developing healthy movement habits, including stretches and exercises to help your foot function at its best.
Often, deciding to see a physical therapist for foot pain will come through a recommendation from your primary foot care provider, like an orthopedist or podiatrist.
If you have had foot surgery, your physical therapist can work with you to rehabilitate the muscles and tendons as you heal. Your physical therapist can also address foot pain caused by an irregular gait using a combination of stabilizing and flexibility exercises over a series of visits.
The goal of physical therapy is to help you learn to help yourself. By educating patients about the nature and structure of the foot, a qualified physical therapist can empower those who suffer from post-surgical or chronic foot pain to make physical activity and footwear choices that can reduce foot pain and lead to a healthier lifestyle.
Many larger physical therapy offices will have a foot specialist, and many offer off-the-shelf and/or custom orthotics.
If you are experiencing foot, ankle, or knee pain due to bones or joints that are out of alignment, a visit to the chiropractor can be helpful. Before making any kind of adjustment, your chiropractor will examine the bones and ligaments of your foot and ankle to be sure you are not suffering from a break, tear, or sprain as these injuries do not respond well to chiropractic treatment.
Some chiropractors sell insoles, and some take impressions for custom orthotics. Be wary of practitioners with little training who send out for custom orthotic fabrication. All custom orthotics are not created equal. It is easy to spend hundreds of dollars trying to get quality from someone who lacks the required knowledge and experience.
Ultimately, the best course of action for most serious foot issues is to visit a qualified podiatrist or orthopedist first. These foot care providers can give you a proper diagnosis and may recommend other care providers. If your problem is easily fixed with mechanical, non-surgical therapy, a pedorthist may be your best choice.
Depending on the cause of your foot pain, treatments may include physical therapy, a bone or joint adjustment, medication, orthotic shoe inserts, stabilizing footwear, or surgery.
If you have common biomechanical irregularities that can lead to foot pain, insoles can help correct them and keep you pain free. When you're looking for the right insole, there are a few things you want to consider:
Get started finding your flawless fit with our Find Your Fit tool. You'll be on your way to living foot pain free and back to doing the things you love.
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Mark has always believed exceptional footwear can change lives. He's been in the footwear industry for over 30 years, working with podiatrists, pedorthists, foot care experts, and footwear makers. Mark started Chaco sandals in 1989 and developed a game-changing sport sandal that delivered comfort and durability. After Chaco sold in 2009, Mark ultimately started Tread Labs to continue transforming people's footwear so they can walk better, feel better, live better.
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