Orthopedic Surgeon vs. Podiatrist

Posted on 06-20-2024 in Foot/Ankle & Podiatrist by Dr. Erik Nilssen

The foot is comprised of 26 bones, 33 joints, and more than 100 ligaments, tendons, and muscles, the feet and ankles are a part of the human skeletal system that is very complex. Because of this, it can take years of education, training, and practice to become a medical expert in this field. It’s essential to understand the difference between an orthopedic surgeon and a podiatrist when you are looking for foot and ankle surgery and care.

Differences Between Orthopedic Surgeons and Podiatrists

Knowing the education, training, experience, and certification requirements helps you to choose the best foot and ankle specialist for your injury, disorder, or condition. A big difference between the two types of medical providers is their level of education and the training they complete. This includes how many years in medical school and in a residency program and the focus of study.

In addition, it’s important to understand that an orthopedic ankle and foot surgeon also understands the entire body, as well including the muscles, bones, tendons, ligaments and joints or the lower extremities. This means he can not only address complicated ankle and foot problems, but he also understands how medical conditions could impact your overall health. Because of this, he knows the impact that your whole body can have on ankle and foot conditions and vice versa.

Orthopedic Surgeons

Orthopedic surgeons have M.D. degrees. Following college, they also have four years of medical school, a year’s worth of internship, and then three to four years of residency. Additionally, they have a minimum of five years of orthopedic or general surgery postgraduate` training and advanced training in ankle and foot surgery.

Orthopedic surgeons with MDs are cleared by the American Board of Orthopedic Surgery for both written and oral examinations and must have continued medical education. They treat joints and bones musculoskeletal system conditions, this includes bone joints, muscle, and ligaments. Orthopedic surgeons can take a full-body approach to diagnose your condition.


Podiatrists typically treat common foot ailments, including calluses, ingrown toenails, heel spurs, injuries, fallen arches, and foot injuries. They are well equipped to fit orthotics, custom shoes, and braces. They typically are not trained to manage the complete array of foot, ankle, and lower leg problems involving the soft tissues, ligaments, tendons, muscles, and bones.

Podiatrists do not hold an M.D. degree. After their undergraduate degree, they go through four years of a program in podiatric medicine. Some will follow up with a one-year internship and others will have optional podiatric surgical training. It depends on the state they are in if they need to take an oral or written exam. Podiatrists only work with the feet and ankles and in some states, they are not allowed above the ankle.

Benefits of Orthopedic Surgeons

The orthopedic surgeon is an MD who not only focuses on the lower extremity but the overall musculoskeletal system. He specializes in the diagnosis, prevention, treatment, and rehabilitation of diseases and injuries in your musculoskeletal system. Although many do practice general orthopedics, some even specialize in treating the hand, spine, shoulder, knee, foot, and ankle (of course), sports, as well as pediatrics medicine.

Dr. Erik Nilssen is board certified by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons and the American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery. As a foot and ankle orthopedic surgeon, he has also obtained a fellowship, at the American Sports Medicine Institute under the direction of Dr. James R. Andrews in sports medicine and subsequently completed a fellowship in ankle and foot.

If you have a suspected repetitive or traumatic motion injury to a joint, bone, nerve, or tendon, you should seek treatment from an orthopedic doctor. When you are experiencing chronic bone or joint pain, have arthritis, or have been diagnosed with a rheumatic disease, your best choice for treatment is the orthopedic surgeon. The healing process for your foot or ankle condition can be sped along greatly by choosing the right orthopedic specialist.

Dr. Erik Nilssen is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon and founder of the North Florida Bone & Joint Specialists in Gulf Breeze, Florida. His education, training, and experience are impressive, and include:

  • A cum laude degree from Auburn University in 1996.
  • Completion of USF School of Medicine curriculum in 2002.
  • An orthopedic residency in 2007 at McGill University.

Dr. Nilssen’s other notable accomplishments include:

  • Dual fellowships in both Sports Medicine and Foot and Ankle Surgery at the American Sports Medicine Institute, including one year under the direction of renowned sports medicine orthopedic surgeon Dr. James R. Andrews.
  • Board certifications by the American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery and the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.
  • Associate Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery at the University Of South Alabama College Of Medicine.
  • Team Physician for Intercollegiate Sports at Auburn University.
  • Consulting for various professional teams throughout the NBA, NFL, and Olympic Sports.
  • Founder of the first dedicated Orthopedic Sports Medicine based foot and ankle clinic to be established in the United States.
  • Utilizing the first weight-bearing CT scanner in Florida at the North Florida Bone & Joint Specialists at The Andrews Institute.

Making The Decision

When choosing an ankle and foot specialist, take the time to learn about their education, residency, areas of specialization, and experience with your specific condition before making a final decision. Depending on your condition, both a podiatrist and an orthopedic ankle and foot specialist are great choices. However, with an orthopedic ankle and foot surgeon, you have peace of mind knowing that he has extensive education, training, and residency experience, is a medical doctor and specializes in more than just the foot and ankle.

The North Florida Bone & Joint Specialists at The Andrews Institute specializes in research and multidisciplinary medical treatments that focus on all foot and ankle disorders and injuries related to sports, rehabilitation, prevention, and athletic performance. It was the first clinic established in the United States as a dedicated Orthopedic Sports Medicine centered ankle and foot clinic. Elite athletes, as well as non-athletes with ankle and foot issues, are treated and operated on by Dr. Erik Nilssen.

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