Orthotics get a bad rap.
If you ask around, you’ll probably get all kinds of conflicting stories. Some people swear by them. “I tried a pair of Dr. Whatshisname’s from the pharmacy three years ago and all my foot pain is gone!” Others may have felt better for a little while, but their foot pain still returned a few weeks or months later. Still, others may say that the inserts offered no obvious benefit, or even made their pain worse!
It’s natural, then, to wonder. Do orthotics even work? How can you tell a good pair from a bad one? Is it all just a waste of time and money?
We hear you. And fortunately, we have good news! Orthotics can and do work. We use them in our practice quite extensively, and we see the positive changes they’ve made in people’s lives every single day. But here’s the key:
You can’t just pick an insole off the shelf and expect it to work.
Orthotics are kind of like prescription eyeglasses for the feet. In order to do you any good, they need to be optimized for the size, shape, and condition of your foot structure. Grandpa’s glasses might help him see perfectly clearly, but if you try wearing them yourself you’ll probably get a headache!
With orthotics, it’s the same deal. Even if you’re wearing non-prescription orthotics bought off the rack, you’re taking a gamble. Maybe they’ll work for you. But if they don’t, you’ll just waste your money.
What Kinds of Orthotics Are There?
There are tons of different brands, styles, and materials. To simplify things, we’ll separate it into just two categories for now: prefabricated orthotics and custom orthotics.
Prefabricated or non-prescription orthotics are what you find in the store. They’re pumped out of the factory in several common foot styles and configurations, so that means they will only be able to fit your feet approximately. However, they are very affordable, with even the most expensive pairs usually running less than $50.
By contrast, custom orthotics are specially and individually made to fit a unique set of feet. At our office, we use non-weight-bearing 3D scanning technology to get precise measurements of your foot structure in the optimal biomechanical precision.
As you can imagine, these are typically more expensive than prefabricated orthotics. However, because they offer the best possible fit and can be made from more semi-rigid materials, they can do a lot more. Rather than simply adding cushioning, a functional custom orthotic can actually fix the underlying alignment or gait abnormality when you wear them, rather than simply accommodating it. Custom orthotics also tend to last much longer and can often be repaired or adjusted instead of discarded, making them a good value long-term.
Most of the custom orthotics we prescribe are made from graphite. This material offers many significant advantages:
- Rigid enough to correct biomechanical misalignments and reposition the feet properly.
- Soft and flexible enough to bend and move with your feet comfortably.
- A lightweight build and thin-as-a-credit-card profile that fits into almost any type or style of shoe.
- High durability to withstand several years of use.
- Easy to grind or heat mold without compromising its integrity, which allows quick and convenient adjustments to the fit.
How Do I Find the Right Orthotics?
Simple. Instead of taking your chances at the pharmacy, you can pop in for a visit to Canyon Foot + Ankle. We work with orthotics every day and can help get you the right pair for your needs.
Often, we start patients with an affordable prefabricated orthotic that has been selected by one of our specialists. This is quite often sufficient for ordinary aches and pains. Custom orthotics may be recommended for those with more significant pain or biomechanical issues or those who aren’t getting what they need from prefabricated pairs.
What Can Orthotics Treat?
We have used orthotics to help patients of all ages with a wide range of troublesome foot issues. Here are just a few examples:
- Pediatric gait issues. Since kids’ feet grow so quickly, we offer prefabricated functional inserts specially made for children’s feet. This offers good results without the expense of multiple custom orthotic sets per year.
- Athletes with performance concerns. The right orthotic can not only protect active individuals from injuries like sprains and tendinitis, but they can also boost their athletic performance by allowing them to use their feet and legs more efficiently.
- Chronic pain. Many times, aching heels, feet, and legs can be attributed to biomechanical problems. The right orthotics can offload pressure from overworked joints and reduce painful shock and shearing forces.
- Post-surgical recovery. A pair of orthotics can stabilize the foot and joint movement after reconstructive surgery, preventing recurrence of the original problem. For example, bunion surgery may leave you with more flexible arches, which the orthotics then support.