Do you struggle with foot, leg, or back pain? Your shoes could make all the difference.
Custom orthotics are inserts made specifically for your body. They can do all kinds of things like support your ankles, help your foot move the way it needs to, and even correct deformities.
These orthotics are different from the insoles you see at your local pharmacy or superstore. Those are heel pads that may make your shoes more comfortable. But they’re also a one-size-fits-all kind of product that isn’t well suited to more severe or chronic pain.
Are custom orthotic inserts worth the investment? Keep reading to learn more about how they can transform the way you move.
Who Benefits from Orthotics?
Orthotics are the next step for you if exercises and off-the-shelf treatments aren’t easing your pain.
People who benefit the most from these devices tend to be those who suffer from conditions like:
- Flat feet
- Foot and ankle injuries
- Heel spurs
- High arches
- Plantar fasciitis
They can also help with back pain and posture. When your feet aren’t positioned correctly, they can cause your entire body to compensate. Your legs, pelvis, back, and even shoulders contort to keep you upright, which changes both your posture and your gait. The result is stress on your lower back, which can either cause or significantly contribute to lower back pain.
Orthotics Are Part of a Holistic Treatment Plan
Doctors rarely prescribe custom orthotics on their own. Often, they are part of a more comprehensive treatment plan designed to help you heal and see long-term relief.
The supportive shoes work in conjunction with exercises and physical therapy that strengthen and heal. You may also receive nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to help with pain and inflammation (for conditions like arthritis).
Orthotics complement these other treatments because they correct poorly positioned feet. NSAIDs and exercises provide relief, but they don’t necessarily provide the corrective treatment needed to improve your overall kinetic chain.
The ultimate goal of your orthotics (in combination with the other treatments) is to reduce the likelihood of or even prevent more dramatic fixes, like surgery.
How Does the Orthotics Process Work?
There are three types of orthotics: off-the-shelf, kiosk-generated, and custom orthotics.
The first two work for issues like general discomfort or heel pain, but they won’t correct the specific problems your foot presents. They provide cushion and support, but they don’t take into consideration your height, weight, health history, and more.
Custom orthotics require a full exam.
It starts with a health history as well as a description of your leg or foot pain. Your doctor’s goal is to understand how you went from healthy movement to mild discomfort to agony.
You then go through several exams. The first is a biomechanical exam of your lower extremities. A doctor assesses your muscles, joints, and bone segments to look for malalignments and stress, which causes strain and pain.
Next is the gait analysis, which highlights issues like flat feet or uneven leg length. You may need a more advanced analysis, which measures your in-shoe pressure measurement.
Your doctor then uses a three-dimensional plaster cast to fully encapsulate your foot. It not only captures the exact shape of your foot, but it highlights the flexibility of your joints. In cases where arthritis limits your flexibility, you may use a semi-weight-bearing casting or neutral position casting.
As a result, your prescription reflects more than just the condition or symptoms you experience. It shares:
- Shell material
- Device width
- Heel cup depth
- Additional devices needed
- Motion control and stabilization
The prescription and your casts then go to a lab for fabrication, which can take several weeks to complete.
When you receive your orthotics, you won’t feel the full effect right away. It can take you up to four weeks to break them in and adjust to your new foot position. The break-in period is longer if you also need to change your shoe style to fit the orthotics.
Are Orthotics Worth It?
Orthotics, in theory, are worth it for people with specific conditions who need help correcting their foot placement.
But many of us also know people who chose to go the orthotics route and saw no help.
The truth is that orthotics aren’t for everyone. Even among people who could benefit, there are other factors at work, such as:
- the prescription
- the quality of the orthotic
- the shoe you wear them in
- the frequency you wear them
Orthotics only help if they are well-fitted to your foot and worn correctly. If you get orthotics, and they don’t seem to provide the relief you expect, then consider the above issues.
One of the most pressing issues in orthotics is that too many are poorly made. Many manufacturers lack the knowledge of the anatomy of your feet and the kinetic chain to have any business making orthotics – even with a detailed prescription. Others cut corners to be price-competitive.
The truth is that the biomechanics of your lower body are more than complex. Writing the code to get humans to the moon might have been easier than the maze of human feet, ankle, knee, and pelvis biomechanics.
So if you do have a condition that benefits from orthotics, it is critical that you only buy them through a doctor who provides a thorough examination and works with a top lab.
Your Feet Are Worth It
If you have a condition that benefits from custom orthotics, then they are worth it. However, to truly get the benefit provided by orthotics, they need to address both your symptoms and the complex network that is lower body biomechanics.
Custom orthotics aren’t worth it if you don’t complete a full exam and use a trustworthy fabrication lab.
Just because we hide our feet away with shoes doesn’t mean they’re not important. Your foot position can impact your entire body, and the right corrective measures can transform your life.
Are you looking for a healthcare team who takes orthotics seriously? Get in touch today to learn more about the Meritage Health Network and our team of doctors in Marin, Sonoma, and Napa counties.