What are Orthotics?
Orthotics are a special shoe or heel inserts a doctor prescribes that are custom-made for each patient. Podiatrists may prescribe orthotics to treat a variety of problems related to your feet, legs, or back.
How to Tell if you Need Orthotics
Orthotics can be part of a comprehensive treatment plan to address various symptoms, usually relating to pain and discomfort of the feet and legs. A Podiatrist may prescribe orthotic treatment for the following goals:
- Correcting foot deformities
- Helping the foot or ankle function better
- Provide ankle support
- Reduce risk for injuries
Some people confuse orthotics with heel or shoe inserts that are available at most athletic stores. The difference is orthotics are highly customized shoe or heel inserts specifically made for your feet only. If other treatments like exercises, or off-the-shelf devices don’t work, a Podiatrist may then recommend an orthotic.
What do Orthotics Treat?
Podiatrists prescribe orthotics to treat a number of medical conditions. Some examples include:
- Arthritis- Rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis can cause pain or discomfort in the feet and poor positioning. Orthotics help to correct this.
- Back Pain- Poor positioning caused by arches that roll inward, or lack of cushioning, can be lessened by orthotics.
- Bunions- Bunions are painful bumps that often develop at the base of the big toe. They can cause foot deformities, but orthotics with a wide toe box can help reduce the pressure on the big toe.
- Bursitis- Bursitis is a condition that affects the joints. Bursae are fluid-filled sacs that act as a cushion between bones, tendons, joints, and muscles. If these sacs become inflammed it’s called bursitis. Orthotics with heel and arch support can help reduce discomfort caused by bursitis.
- Diabetes- Diabetes is a disease in which your blood sugar levels are too high. A common side effect of diabetes is the loss of sensation in their feet, otherwise known as diabetic neuropathy. If this occurs, orthotics can help reduce excess stress and pressure that leads to foot ulcers.
- Flat Feet- Flatfeet is essentially when the arches on the inside of your feet are flattened, allowing the soles of your feet to touch the floor when you stand up. Flatfeet can sometimes contribute to problems in your ankles and knees. Orthotics can help support the feet and promote proper foot positioning to alleviate pain.
- Hammertoe-Hammertoes are deformities that occur due to an imbalance in the muscles, tendons, or ligaments that normally hold the toe straight. Orthotics can provide additional support to the feet and reduce the likelihood that hammertoes get worse.
- Heel Spurs- A heel spur is a calcium deposit causing a bony protrusion on the underside of the heel bone. Although heel spurs are often painless, they can cause heel pain. Orthotics help to support the foot and reduce inflammation.
- High arches- High arches are arches that are raised more than normal. Essentially, they are the opposite of flat feet. High arches can stress muscles in the feet and eventually lead to a number of conditions, such as shin splints, knee pain, and plantar fasciitis. Orthotics help prevent a person’s feet from rolling excessively inward or outward.
- Injuries- People who’ve experienced trauma to their feet and ankles often need extra support during the healing process. Orthotics are a very common way to do this.
- Plantar fasciitis- Plantar fasciitis is an inflammation of the fibrous tissue along the bottom of your foot. This can cause intense heel pain for those that have it. Orthotics will help to support the heel and foot.
Types of Orthotics
Orthotics can be customized using a variety of materials. A Podiatrist will write a prescription for an orthotic and recommend a specialized material based on the condition and symptoms the patient has.
Orthotics can range in materials from rigid orthotics, which are typically made from carbon fiber or plastic to flexible and cushioning orthotics. Some orthotics are full-shoe inserts similar to those that are in athletic shoes. Others are smaller and can fit into the back of the shoe. For patients who need ankle-foot orthotics, these have a shoe insert as well as an upright portion that extends to the calf. Podiatrists may also recommend using orthotics along with braces, shoe inserts, or taping to help with any injuries or conditions.
Do Orthotics Really Work?
Unfortunately, orthotics aren’t a one-time fix for all people with conditions that affect the foot and ankle. There are many things to consider when looking at the effectiveness of orthotics, including the shoe in which a patient wears them and how often a person wears them.
There are many studies that support the use of orthotics for treating foot and ankle problems. However, many of these studies stress that in order to be effective, the orthotic must be well-fitting and worn correctly.
The Bottom Line
Orthotics can be part of a comprehensive treatment plan to help with foot and ankle problems. Like most treatments, orthotics aren’t for everyone and can be expensive for those without insurance coverage. If your Podiatrist recommends orthotics, ensure you know exactly how to wear them, how often they should be worn, and what kind of results you can expect from routine wear.