While orthotics are something we podiatrists think about multiple times every day, there are a lot of misconceptions in the general population about what they are, why they are recommended and what effects they have (good or bad) on your feet. Some people I have seen are completely against the use of orthotics and it is usually because they have had a bad pair of orthotics in the past or they believe that orthotics will actually make their feet weaker. Let's uncover some of these myths and learn the truth about orthotics.
Orthotics (also referred to as orthotic inserts, inserts or arch supports) serve the purpose of supporting ones foot structure while fitting into your shoes. Orthotics are different from braces, but they serve a similar purpose. Orthotics can be made from a variety of materials and the shell of the orthotic (the portion of the orthotic that is fitted to your foot and provides the support) is usually made of one or another strength of plastics or sometimes graphite. These devices used to be made of metals, but this is exceedingly rare now. Orthotics come custom (made from a mold of your feet), semi-custom (based on foot type and shoe size, or OTC (based purely on shoe size with no modifications).
The way that orthotics work is that they improve the alignment to your heel bone (calcaneus) and the bones that create the arch of your foot. This optimizes the pull of muscles both in the ankle and within the foot and prevents one muscle from overpowering another, creating foot deformities and conditions such as tendinitis, plantar fasciitis, capsulitis and even in some cases stress fractures - just to name a few. Depending on what foot type you are, the inherited structure of your foot can mean that you never have foot pain, but rather that pain and injuries are elsewhere in the body - such as the hips, back and knees.
Concerns have been expressed from patients that orthotics will make the foot weaker, or that your foot will become dependent on the support provided by an orthotic - meaning that orthotics need to be worn for the 'rest of my life.' However, if you consider what we just discussed, orthotics do not make the foot or ankles weaker - rather they adjust for muscle imbalances and compensation that is allowing an unfair tug-of-war. Orthotics in fact have the ability to strengthen your foot/ankle by helping your muscles to fire at the appropriate times and at the appropriate strength. As far as concerns of having to wear orthotics for life - this is dependent on age, the specific person and condition being treated. From our experience, once a person has worn orthotics and experienced life with less compensation in their feet, they prefer to have orthotics because they know it will prevent a lot of pain and problems in the future.
Another concern of many people is whether they can wear sandals or shoes for special occasions when they are supposed to be wearing orthotics. Ideally, orthotics would be on your feet anytime you are up and walking around. Realistically, we understand that you don't want to wear your orthotics on your vacation at the beach or when you are standing up in your friends wedding. The more orthotics are worn, the more benefit they will provide. That being said, taking a break to wear sandals or heels is OK, provided this isn't the shoegear of choice day after day. And another consideration for sandals is to try Spenco total recovery sandals. We have these available at our office and they have arch support and a deep heel cup as well as a forefoot pad that makes them worlds more comfortable and won't slow you down at the amusement park or beach.
If you think you could benefit from better support of your feet or if you have been suffering from pain in your foot, contact us today for an appointment. We can walk you through what is happening and help you find relief!