What are orthotics and how can they help?
Orthotics are devices which are placed into your shoes, and are designed to adjust your movement pattern and so reduce discomfort and strain – perhaps in your feet, perhaps elsewhere in your body.
They may be used to treat a range of conditions:
- to aid recovery from a sports injury;
- to compensate for a difference between your two feet;
- to prevent problems in the future;
- or to relieve pain in your feet, knees and even your back (see my earlier article about podiatry and back problems).
There are orthotics for plantar fasciitis, orthotics for bunions and arch support, orthotics for heel pain, orthotics for running, children’s orthotics, orthotics for diabetics, knee orthotics, ankle orthotics, toe orthotics and orthotics for flat feet, to name just a few.
Seeing a Podiatrist about Orthotics
Before prescribing orthotics, your podiatrist will conduct a thorough assessment, and have an in-depth discussion with you, to gain vital information about:
- your feet and how you walk. At our Redlands podiatrist clinic, we use the latest technology, including computerised gait scanning.
- your weight;
- your age;
- your usual shoe style;
- the surface you spend most of your day on;
- your medical history (including any injuries);
- your lifestyle.
Discussing Orthotics with Your Podiatrist
These are all taken into account so your podiatrist can recommend the best orthotics for your needs.
- Will an over-the-counter orthotic suffice – or do you need custom-made?
- What material should your orthotic be made of?
- What will best suit your usual shoes and your lifestyle?
- Is budget a concern?
What Type of Shoes Do you Wear?
Considering the combination of shoe and orthotic is critical.
The design and style of your everyday footwear has a direct influence on the type of support your podiatrist will recommend for you.
For example, if you work in a professional office and usually wear court shoes or dress shoes, this will restrict the size of the orthotic; whereas running shoes or kids school shoes allow for more design choices.
As a Redlands podiatrist for over 20 years, I know that orthotics that fit with your preferred shoe style are incredibly important. They may not be the most supportive device available – but experience tells me that the best results are gained when you actually wear your orthotic!
Another tip if you need orthotics: when purchasing shoes, look for those with removable liners, as this allows greater choice and selection of orthotics.
Cost of Orthotics
Orthotics range in price greatly, depending on the material type and functionality. The more expensive orthotics are custom-made, have more function, and offer the best quality in terms of technological innovation and material choice.
However once again, there needs to be a balance between offering a client the best orthotic for their condition, and what they can actually afford. Your local podiatrist should help you with a solution that ticks all the boxes: a good shoe, a good orthotic, and a good fit with your budget.
Type of Materials
Orthotics are usually made from materials such as EVA foam, polypropylene plastic, and carbon fibre, depending on whether it is a functional or accommodative orthotic device.
Different brands use different trade names for these materials, so a good podiatrist needs to be familiar with the various names and their equivalents, in order to prescribe the best orthotics for your needs.
Functional devices are often used for conditions which affect the body above the foot – such as ligament injuries; knee strain and lower back problems.
The more rigid the material, the further up the body you get the effect. Being more rigid, they have greater impact on the plane of movement which has excessive – or restricted – motion, and is therefore causing problems.
These rigid materials – eg polypropylene and carbon fibre are thinner; and because they are custom-made, functional orthotics generally cost more.
Your weight affects the thickness and rigidity of the material chosen for your orthotic. For example, for individuals less than 80kg, a 3mm polypropylene will generally be chosen; those weighing 100 kilograms will require a 4mm device; while heavier individuals will need 5mm.
Accommodative orthotics are made of cheaper and less functional materials such as EVA foams and are usually molded to the entire length of the boot. Although they are cheaper, they are bulkier, meaning your shoe choices will be more limited.
Commonly prescribed for clients with Diabetes, Charcot’s, or high arch feet, they primarily provide comfort contouring of the foot.
They are most useful in treating problems in the feet themselves, while functional orthotics help with further up the body.
Why is Discussion about Orthotics so Important?
If you are unhappy with your orthotic, feel you have not been offered material choice, or don’t know why a specific recommendation has been made, I urge you to go back to your local podiatrist and to find out.
The staff at my Redlands podiatrist clinic know that the keys to achieving the best outcomes in the shortest possible time frame with orthotics, are making sure the client:
- understands the reasoning behind their orthotic type and material,
- is happy from an economic perspective.
We have found that this results in clients being more likely to adhere to their treatment program (which likely includes exercises as well as orthotics), thus achieving less pain, faster healing, and better quality of life.
If you have any questions, feel that you might benefit from orthotics, or would like to check out our range of orthotic-friendly shoes, call us today on 3207 4736.