If you’ve been kicking around the idea of getting those aches and pains in your feet and ankles checked out, you may be wondering what your next steps are. Is it time to call up a foot and ankle surgeon or should you schedule an appointment with a podiatrist? Kick up those feet and dive in to these tips about which specialist is the right choice for your specific needs.

In terms of training, orthopedic foot and ankle surgeons have extensive training in bony and soft tissue injuries, as well as a more structured and intensive surgical training. Their robust background of medical training also includes basic and clinical science, with focused training in the musculoskeletal system with high clinical and surgical volume exposure to different pathologies, including but not limited to orthopedic oncology, fracture care, spine surgery, upper and lower extremity sports injuries, reconstructive surgery and pediatric orthopedic surgery.

While in residency and fellowship training, orthopedic foot and ankle surgeons are constantly exposed to cutting-edge technology and have a lot of interaction with experts in the field, allowing them to learn the fundamentals of how to provide the best comprehensive patient care once they are finished with schooling. On the other hand, podiatrists have expertise in foot care, but are often limited to nail, foot and ankle care, and volume exposure during training is limited, as well as the understanding of pathology.

So for those dealing with pain from the leg down, seeing an orthopedic foot and ankle surgeon is most likely the route you’ll need to go. But if it’s something more specific, like diabetic foot or nail care that probably won’t require a surgical diagnosis, a podiatrist is probably a better fit.

“Podiatrists are limited to treating ankle, foot and nail pathologies, and orthopedic surgeons are licensed to provide comprehensive musculoskeletal care to patients,” said Dr. Andrés O’Daly, a board certified and fellowship trained orthopedic surgeon specializing in foot and ankle injuries and disorders for Coastal Orthopedics. “Exposure to a high case load in all subspecialties during training gives the orthopedic surgeon broad knowledge to address any concern, if needed.”

The good news is, there’s always the chance that you won’t need to go the surgical route, and an orthopedic foot and ankle surgeon can still help you. “Outside of trauma cases, a surgeon’s primary goal is to manage without surgical procedures, if possible,” said Dr. Matthew Pacana, fellowship trained orthopedic surgeon specializing in foot and ankle injuries and disorders for Coastal Orthopedics. “Since orthopedic foot and ankle surgeons have the ability to perform surgery unlike most podiatrists, it can be very beneficial to have that perspective and option for those dealing with chronic problems.”

At Coastal Orthopedics, a full-service provider of comprehensive orthopedic surgery, sports medicine, spine care, diagnostic imaging and physical therapy service, most of the musculoskeletal problems that come in benefit from conservative treatment, with approximately 20 to 30 percent of visits requiring surgery after failed non-operative treatment. Patients also have the added bonus of having access to highly trained medical personnel, including physician assistants, nursing providers, cast technicians, physical therapists and support personnel to ensure the patient receives the highest quality of care.