The human foot is a complex mechanism of bones, muscles, ligaments, tendons and blood vessels. Because the human foot is always in use, it is subject to a number of diseases and disorders that must be treated by an appropriate specialist. Whether a podiatrist or an orthopedist is needed depends on whether there is a problem of soft tissue or of the skeletal structure, and the location and nature of the problem.
All About Podiatrists
Podiatrists earn a Doctor of Podiatric Medicine, or D.P.M., degree by attending a four-year podiatric medicine program after college. Their expertise is in the foot, ankle and lower leg. They must pass specialized exams to acquire licenses to practice, and these exams vary from state to state The demand for podiatrists is expected to increase in the future because of the aging population and increased activity levels of today's younger population.
What Podiatrists Treat
Podiatrists treat ingrown toenails, calluses, fallen arches, heel spurs, and foot or ankle injuries. They also treat deformities of the feet. They can provide crucial treatment of foot problems related to diabetes and other systemic illnesses. Podiatrists use X-rays and lab tests to diagnose problems, and they may specialize in primary care, pediatrics, geriatrics, surgery or diabetes care.
All About Orthopedists
Orthopedists -- also known as orthopedic surgeons or orthopods -- are medical doctors and earn an M.D. or D.O. degree. Their expertise is in disorders of the entire skeletal system of the human body. They attend four years of medical schooling beyond college and then must have a one-year internship, followed by three or four years of surgical residency. Some orthopedists complete additional training, called a fellowship, for specialty education in a particular orthopedic surgical specialty.
What Orthopedists Treat
Orthopedists treat bone fractures and the bone's supporting muscles, tendons, ligaments and soft tissues. They also do arthroscopic surgery of the knee, joint surgeries and joint replacements, repair torn knee ligaments, do hand surgeries and treat ruptured discs of the spine. Orthopedists use X-rays, MRIs and lab tests to determine what is wrong, then prescribe medications, physical therapy or surgery to correct the problem.
Podiatrists earn less than orthopedists in most cases. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the average annual salary for podiatrists in 2013 was $135,070, although some podiatrists earned as much as $167,450. In contrast,orthopedic surgeons earned a median salary of $525,000 in 2013, according to "Becker's Hospital Review." The highest offered base salary for orthopedic surgeons, however, was $750,000.
2016 Salary Information for Podiatrists
Podiatrists earned a median annual salary of $124,830 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, podiatrists earned a 25th percentile salary of $78,130, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $182,420, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 11,000 people were employed in the U.S. as podiatrists.