Podiatrist or orthopaedist? Which foot and ankle specialist do you need?

Foot or ankle pain? Well not to worry, because we know a thing or two about foot and ankle health treatments! When you have pain, but can’t identify exactly what is causing it, it can be tricky to decide whom to see. It likely isn’t just you either - estimates say that between 9% and 30% of the UK general population have foot pain.

So, do you see a podiatrist or an orthopaedist? They both specialise in that part of the body, but focus on different causes within.

In this guide, we will detail what each specialises in, and which you should see and why. Luckily, in London especially both are in good supply so you’ll always have someone to see!

Podiatrists: The nail and biomechanical Specialists

Podiatrists are healthcare professionals with training in the care of the foot, ankle, and related structures of the leg. They hold a Podiatry degree and are not doctors, therefore they cannot prescribe medication, nor obtain certain diagnostic tests. Their training lasts 3 years and upon completion in the UK, unlike in the USA, they cannot perform surgery but deal only with minor procedures. They are adept at managing a variety of conditions, including:

  • Complex postural disorders: Podiatrists treat foot disorders such as flat feet, high arches, and other structural issues that can affect your overall posture and mobility.
  • Sports related advice: Athletes often rely on podiatrists for the improvement of sports-related injuries and advice on proper footwear and injury prevention strategies such as insoles.
  • Paediatric foot care: Children with foot deformities, gait abnormalities, or growth-related issues can benefit from a podiatrist’s specialised paediatric care.
  • Geriatric foot health: Foot issues tend to get worse as we age, unfortunately. Podiatrists play a crucial role in maintaining mobility and independence for older adults.
  • Nail conditions: Those conditions affecting the toenails such as ingrowing-toe nails or fungal nail infections and discolouration are within the area of expertise of podiatrists..
  • Orthotics and insoles prescription: For conditions that may benefit from customised insoles podiatrists can manufacture the most appropriate foot orthotic.

If your concerns are strictly within the realm of your toenails or related to posture and biochemical imbalances, a podiatrist is your best bet to ensure you get the best specialised care. They will also advice on adequate footwear and provide insoles or shoe modifications.

Orthopedists: Specialists of The Musculoskeletal System

Orthopedists, otherwise known as orthopaedic surgeons, have a broader scope of practice that encompasses the entire musculoskeletal system. They are doctors trained in healthcare for over 14-15 years. This training includes Medical School (5 years), Specialised Orthopaedic training (8 years), and subspecialised foot and ankle training (1-2 years). They are trained to diagnose, treat, and manage conditions such as:

  • Comprehensive joint care: From arthritis management to total joint replacement, orthopaedists handle a wide array of joint-related issues.
  • Trauma and fracture care: Orthopedists are often found in emergency rooms, providing acute care for traumatic injuries and ensuring proper healing of fractures either with casts/boots or surgery.
  • Sports medicine: Specialising in sports medicine, orthopedists treat athletes of all levels, focusing on injury prevention, treatment, and rehabilitation.
  • Bone conditions and osteoporosis management: They also play a key role in managing osteoporosis, a condition that weakens bones and makes them more prone to fractures.
  • General foot issues: Orthopaedists are equipped best to deal with more general foot specific issues such as bunions, hammertoes and more, using either surgical or non-surgical treatments.

Orthopaedists should usually be your first go to for the majority of foot or ankle issues you may encounter.

For general musculoskeletal problems or conditions that affect multiple areas of your body, an orthopedist is the specialist to consult. They offer a comprehensive approach to treatment, which may include surgery, physical therapy, and medication. However, for more localised conditions affecting toenails or altered posture, it is likely that your issue will fall more under the expertise of a podiatrist.

Deciding on the Right Specialist in London

The choice between a podiatrist and an orthopedist often depends on the specific nature of your issue. Consider the following factors:

  • Specificity of the condition: Orthopaedists are the best choice for conditions that are confined to the foot and ankle. For biomechanical or toenail issues, a posiatrist's  expertise is more suitable.
  • Depth of specialisation: While both specialists can treat foot and ankle problems, orthopaedists have a wider and deeper specialisation in it.
  • Surgical interventions: Orthopaedists are trained to perform a wide range of surgeries, which may be necessary for complex or severe conditions, such as those affecting multiple parts of the foot and ankle.

In general, your best bet will be to consult with an orthopaedist specialised in foot and ankle, as your first point of contact to have a diagnosis and treatment established. When appropriate, your orthopaedist can refer you to see the podiatrist as part of the treatment plan as they usually work closely together.

Whether you’re dealing with a sudden injury, chronic pain, or a condition that affects your ability to walk or perform daily activities, understanding the roles of podiatrists and orthopedists will best ensure you are given the treatment you need most efficiently. By choosing the right specialist, you ensure that you receive targeted treatment, benefit from specialised expertise, and set yourself on the path to optimal recovery.

So if whatever is bugging you is still doing so after reading all that, maybe it’s time to get it seen to? Based in London, Foot and Ankle Treatments led by Mr Francesc Malagelada can provide quality care for a wide range of issues. Your feet and ankles are extremely important - so if you have an issue with them, book a consultation with us to help us ensure you can be back to your best!

This article is for information purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice. Consult your physician for personalised guidance. In case of a medical emergency, contact your doctor or emergency services.