What are Orthotics?

Orthotics are shoe inserts that are intended to correct an abnormal, or irregular, walking pattern. Orthotics are not truly or solely  “arch supports,” although some  people  use those words to describe them, and they perhaps can best  be understood with those words in mind. They perform functions that make  standing, walking, and running more comfortable and efficient by altering slightly the angles  at which  the foot strikes a walking or running surface.

Doctors of podiatric medicine prescribe orthotics as a conservative approach to many foot problems or as a method of control after certain types of foot surgery; their use is a highly successful, practical treatment form.

Orthotics take various forms and are constructed of various materials. All are concerned with improving foot function and minimizing stress forces that could  ultimately cause foot deformity and pain.

Foot orthotics fall into three broad categories: those that primarily attempt to change  foot function, those that are primarily protective in nature, and those that combine functional control and protection.

Rigid Orthotics

The so-called rigid orthotic device  designed to control function, may  be made  of a firm material such as plastic or carbon fiber and is used primarily for walking or dress shoes.  It is generally fabricated from a plaster of paris mold  of the individual foot. The finished device  normally extends along  the sole of the heel to the ball or toes of the foot. It is worn mostly in closed  shoes with a heel height under two inches. Because  of the nature of the materials involved, very little alteration in shoe size is necessary.

Rigid orthotics are chiefly designed to control motion in two major foot joints, which  lie directly below  the ankle  joint. These devices  are long  lasting, do not change  shape, and are usually difficult to break. Strains, aches,  and pains  in the legs,  thighs, and lower back may  be due to abnormal function of the foot, or a slight difference in the length of the legs.  In such cases,  orthotics may  improve or eliminate these symptoms, which  may  seem  only  remotely connected to foot function.

Soft Orthotics

The second, or soft, orthotic device  helps  to absorb shock, increase balance, and take pressure off uncomfortable or sore spots. It is usually constructed of soft, compressible materials, and may  be molded by the action of the foot in walking or fashioned over a plaster impression of the foot. Also worn against the sole of the foot, it usually extends from the heel past  the ball of the foot to include the toes.

The advantage of any soft orthotic device  is that it may  be easily  adjusted to changing weight-bearing forces. The disadvantage is that it must be periodically replaced or refurbished. It is particularly effective for arthritic and grossly deformed feet where there is a loss of protective fatty tissue on the side of the foot. It is also widely used in the care of the diabetic foot. Because  it is compressible, the soft orthotic is usually bulkier and may  well  require extra room in shoes or prescription footwear.

Semi rigid Orthotics

The third type of orthotic device  (semi rigid) provides for dynamic balance  of the foot while  walking or participating in sports. This orthotic is not a crutch, but an aid to the athlete. Each sport has its own demands and each sport orthotic needs  to be constructed appropriately with the sport and the athlete taken into consideration. This functional dynamic orthotic helps  guide  the foot through proper functions, allowing the muscles and tendons to perform more efficiently. The classic,  semi  rigid orthotic is constructed of layers of soft material, reinforced with more rigid materials.

Orthotics for Children

Orthotic devices  are effective in the treatment of children with foot deformities. Most podiatric physicians recommend that children with such deformities be placed  in orthotics soon after they start walking, to stabilize the foot. The devices  can be placed  directly into a standard shoe or an athletic shoe.

Usually, the orthotics need to be replaced when  the child’s  foot has grown two sizes.  Different types of orthotics may be needed  as the child’s  foot develops and changes  shape.

The length of time a child  needs  orthotics varies considerably, depending on the seriousness of the deformity and how soon correction is addressed.

Other Types of Orthotics

Various other orthotics may  be used for multidirectional sports or edge-control sports by casting the foot within the ski boot, ice skate boot, or inline  skate boot. Combinations of semi  flexible material and soft material to accommodate painful areas are utilized for specific problems.

Research has shown  that back problems frequently can be traced to a foot imbalance. It’s important for your podiatric physician to evaluate the lower extremity as a whole  to provide for appropriate orthotic control for foot problems.

Orthotic Tips

  • Wear shoes that work well  with your orthotics.
  • Bring your orthotics with you whenever you purchase a new pair of shoes.
  • Wear socks or stockings similar to those that you plan  on wearing when  you  shop for new shoes.
  • Return as directed for follow-up evaluation of the functioning of your orthotics. This is important for making certain that your feet and orthotics are functioning properly together.

At the Family FootCare Center, we specialize in: