What Are Orthotics?
Orthotics are inserts that you place inside your shoes in order to better support and cushion your feet, or to readjust the alignment and biomechanics of your feet as you stand and walk. You might have seen mass-produced orthotics in the store or even advertised on TV, but they can be much more than that. At our office, we use both prefabricated and custom orthotics extensively to treat a wide variety of painful foot and ankle conditions effectively.
If you want a useful analogy, think about glasses and contacts. On their own, your eyes might not be able to bring objects into sharp focus. Things are blurrier than they should be, and your quality of life suffers. But when you put on your corrective eyewear, they give your eyes what they need to do their job correctly.
Orthotics are like that, except for the feet. On their own, the structural or gait problems with your feet may be painful and frustrating to deal with. But the right pair of orthotics can relieve pressure and adjust posture and alignment issues to get your feet working the way they should.
What Conditions Can Orthotics Treat?
Orthotics are extremely versatile tools. They can come in many different shapes and sizes. They can be made from a wide variety of materials, from soft silicone to semi-rigid graphite and hard plastic.
While you can’t expect that picking a random insert off the shelf will fix your ailment, choosing the right pair of orthotics for your feet and condition can:
- Relieve foot pains and aches, whether located in the heels, arches, or forefoot
- Assist athletes suffering from foot-related performance issues and reduce their risk of injury
- Fix biomechanical gait and alignment problems, in young children as well as adults
- Protect diabetic feet and reduce the risk of developing wounds and ulcers
- Protect and support feet after a reconstructive surgery to prevent recurrence of the problem
Prefabricated or Custom Orthotics?
Prefabricated orthotics that are mass produced and sold over the counter in stores and pharmacies. They are relatively inexpensive and can often improve or even eliminate mild to moderate foot pain. However, they generally can’t fix alignment issues, or treat as many different kinds of conditions as custom orthotics. We carry a selection of good prefabricated in our office, and often recommend these first if we think they can help.
Custom orthotics are prescribed by a specialist and built to the exact specifications of your feet. At our office, we use a non-weight-bearing 3D scanning system to generate a pixel-precise digital map of your feet when placed in a biomechanically ideal position. Custom orthotics can offer better results for a wider variety of conditions, including those that require an adjustment to the alignment or motion of the feet. They are more expensive up front than prefabricated orthotics, but also last much longer on average and can usually be adjusted as necessary.
What Kinds of Custom Orthotics Do You Provide?
Our philosophy is that your orthotics should fit your lifestyle. You shouldn’t have to adjust your lifestyle to accommodate a bulky pair of plastic inserts.
Although we can and do prescribe orthotics made from other materials, we most often recommend and prescribe semi-rigid orthotics made from graphite. This offers several distinct advantages.
- Graphite is soft and flexible enough to be comfortable to wear, but rigid enough to maintain a biomechanically correct alignment of the feet and ankles.
- It’s extremely light and thin, so it should slip into almost any type or style of shoe you wear comfortably.
- It’s durable and easy to adjust, meaning most people can get several years of use out of their orthotics before they need to be replaced.
What About Orthotics for Children?
One of the main advantages of custom orthotics for adults is that they can last for years. That’s not true for children, though, since their feet are still growing. Fitting kids for new pairs of custom orthotics multiple times per year can quickly get expensive, and frustrating.
When it comes to pain and gait problems for children, we instead use a combination of premade orthotics and bracing until their feet are big enough and have stopped growing so quickly. This can provide effective results at significantly lower cost and anxiety for parents and families.