Orthopedic Surgeons vs. Podiatrists vs. Pedorthists: What’s the Difference?

orthopedic surgeonMany people are confused about the difference between a podiatrist, a pedorthist, and an orthopedic surgeon. While the three professions have similarities, there are several distinct differences, outlined below.

Orthopedic Surgeon

Orthopedic surgeons deal with the musculoskeletal system (in other words, the muscles and bones in the body). This incorporates parts of the body other than just the foot and leg, such as the spine, hands, back, and neck.  They treat bone fractures, muscle/tendon/ligament tears, and joint issues. Orthopedists can practice generally on the musculoskeletal system, or focus on a specific area of the body, such as the foot and ankle.

An orthopedic surgeon must complete a four year undergraduate degree, a four year medical school degree, and five years of residency training.


Podiatrists treat maladies of the foot and lower leg, including bunions, sprains, fractures, and diseases such as diabetes. They treat patients using physical therapy and surgery.

To become a podiatrist, you have to go to a four year podiatry school (usually after receiving an undergraduate degree) and earn a D.P.M. (Doctor of Podiatric Medicine). After graduating, podiatrists have to undergo a residency program of 2-4 years, and earn a state license to practice.


A Pedorthist specializes in the fit and modification of shoes and other foot appliances that can help prevent or alleviate pain in the foot.

Pedorthists are not medical doctors. They must complete 120 hours of training and pass a certification exam. Podiatrists and orthopedic surgeons will often refer their patients out to a pedorthist for specialized shoe fitting.

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Lance Silverman, MD

Orthopaedic Surgeon and founder of Silverman Ankle & Foot. Treating Minnesotans with Ankle & Foot problems since 2004.

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