Podiatrist vs. Orthopedist for Hammertoes

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What is the difference between orthopedic surgery and podiatry for the condition of hammertoes?  Both are medical and surgical specialties, and its practitioners attended medical school and residency, and go through a licensure and board certification process.  Orthopedic surgeons and podiatrists work side by side in hospitals and in the same group practices.

The main difference lies in the body systems they treat.  Orthopedic surgeons are concerned with bones, muscles, ligaments and joints throughout the body.  They are bone and joint surgeons.  Podiatrists are foot and ankle doctors and surgeons.  As such, there are overlaps between the two.  Both are concerned with bones, muscles, ligaments and joints in the foot.

Outside of this, orthopedic surgeons are concerned with other areas of the body, including knees, hips, spine.  Podiatrists go into their field knowing from day one that they will be physicians and surgeons of the foot and ankle.  Their curriculum and course of study is geared toward that end.  So even though an orthopedic surgeon may have some experience or training in the foot and ankle, it does not compare in terms of commitment and depth of training in the foot and ankle, all systems, that a podiatrist receives over many years of schooling, residency and fellowship.

This is true in the diagnosis and treatment of hammertoes. Hammertoes are bent toes or contracted toes.  This is a very common condition seen in the office.  Hammertoes can cause pain in shoes as well as create painful corns and calluses.  Treatment for hammertoes includes wearing deep toebox shoes.  A simple surgery can straighten and/or derotate a painful hammertoe.

Hammertoe surgery is intricate and requires attention to detail to restore a functional, straight toe.  Podiatrists learn, perform, and are tested on the many types of hammertoe surgeries in the board certification process.  To be board certified, a podiatrist must take and pass a written test. Then, within a short timeframe, they must perform a diversity of cases, that is, different types of hammertoe procedures. They must then submit a portfolio of case studies to be accepted for oral board certification testing.  There is no such intense certification process for foot surgery cases for orthopedic surgeons.  There have been countless cases Dr. Hoy has seen where the orthopedic treatment for a hammertoe has been amputation of the toe.

Podiatric surgeons, therefore, are more specialized and detailed in the treatment of hammertoes, as the foot and ankle are their specialty.

“He was welcoming and listened well to the concerns I presented. I especially liked that I was able to write down my problem before I came in and he addressed them efficiently. I was diagnosed with a much different problem than I had been given before, and Dr. Hoy explained his simple, methodical method for his diagnosis as we went. I felt extremely cared for and like I will be able to make progress on my problem before I see him again. Definitely see Dr. Hoy if you’ve had problems seeing a general practitioner or orthopedist with no luck. It may be that you need a more specialized opinion.” -Samuel S.