Foot and Ankle Doctors - What do We Do?


What does a foot and ankle doctor do?

You may not know this, but the foot and ankle are one of the most complex systems in the human body to treat. Why? Because there’s a lot going on in there. Muscles, soft tissue, joints, ligaments and bones merge together to form a truly magnificent but very intricate section of the body.

With it, we can jump, run, walk, and even stand for long periods of time. And when our feet and ankles are injured, it can create major structural issues for the complex system that is our body. 

The bottom line is that an Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle specialist can treat the entire body from head to toe, so when it’s necessary to move ‘up the leg’, we can handle it without referring you to an additional specialist.
— Dr JP Elton

And since the biomechanics of the foot and ankle are so darn complex, we have an entire Orthopaedic specialty dedicated to this crucial section of the body.

That’s where I come in! With the foot and ankle system being prone to injuries ranging from sprains to major arthritis, we indeed need to give this area of the body special attention.

The Three Sections of the Foot



Let's talk about our glorious feet. Our feet can be broken into three distinct segments:

The forefoot.

This section of the foot is responsible for balancing pressure via the balls of the feet and also bearing about one half of our body weight. The forefoot consists of our toes (otherwise known as phalanges) and the metatarsals (five lengthier bones of the feet). 

The midfoot.

This section of the foot acts as a “shock-absorber.” Think of the bones of this part of the foot as forming a pyramid of sorts. 

The hind foot.

This section of the foot contains the ankle and heel. The talus (ankle bones) which supports the leg bones, and the calcaneus, which forms the subtler joint and connects with the talus. 

What are some common foot and ankle injuries?

Let's talk briefly about some of the most common foot and ankle injuries.

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Broken ankles

When we reference a "broken ankle", we are talking about what is known technically as an "ankle fracture". Essentially, this means that a bone in the ankle joint is broken.  Fracturing your ankle may consist of a single break in a single bone, or more than one break.

So, the impact on your daily life (and athletic pursuits) will vary depending on whether you have a simple break which will prohibit you from walking, or several fractures that could have you out of commission for a few months. Read more on broken ankles here.

Achilles tendon injuries

The achilles makes it possible to push off while running, jumping, changing direction, and even walking.  The achilles is known as the strongest tendon in the human body.

Common injuries to the achilles tendon are tendonitis and achilles tears (ruptures). Read more on this condition here.

Plantar faciitis

More of a condition than an injury, plantar faciitis can notheless slow you down considerably, especially if you are an athlete relying on jumping and changing direction. 

Patients with plantar fasciitis tend to have symptoms referred to the plantar surface of the foot or the bottom of the heel. The classic symptom of plantar fasciitis is when the first few steps out of bed are painful.

The pain can be dull and aching or excruciating to the point of causing someone to hobble or consider crawling their way to the bathroom. “Symptoms typically ease up after the first few steps but for someone who stands a lot or does a lot of activity they can actually get worse. Read more on plantar faciitis here.

What does your foot and ankle doctor do?


An Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle specialist is well-trained to manage the entire spectrum of issues that may arise in regards to the following:

  • Muscles

  • Tendons
  • Ligaments
  • Soft tissue

Additionally, an Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle specialist can also diagnose the problem and prescribe the necessary medications, bracing, and/or surgery to correct the problem, and set up a program of physical therapy to help you recover.

The bottom line is that an Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle specialist can treat the entire body from head to toe, so when it's necessary to move "up the leg", we can handle it without referring you to an additional specialist.

What type of education do you need to become a foot and ankle doctor?



Orthopaedists must complete a four year undergrad, then four years of formal Medical School training (covering the entire human body) after which we receive the "MD."  After receiving the MD, we embark upon a five year orthopedic surgery residency, covering the entire musculoskeletal system. 

Then comes a fellowship. In my particular case, after completing my residency I did a one year fellowship at Harvard, focusing exclusively on the foot and ankle. 

Orthopaedic Ankle Specialists can treat the entire patient from head to toe, while podiatrists only treat feet. There can also be a significant difference in the extent of training between Podiatrists and Orthopaedists.
— Dr. JP Elton

Just to be frank, Orthopaedic residency positions are extremely competitive. As a result, only the top students from medical school will get into one of these residencies. Additionally, there is very strict accreditation for orthopedic residencies and our Board Certification with the ABOS is even more strict when deciding who gets to practice Orthopaedic surgery.

So, rest assured that if you go to see a specialist for your foot and ankle surgery, you will be in good hands-- your Ortopaedist will be well-trained and probably very experienced at handling the full gamut of conditions and situations related to the foot and ankle.

If you have a foot and ankle injury, don't hesitate to reach out to us at Vail/Summit Orthopaedics. Good luck!

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