What Are Orthotics?
Orthotics are podiatric devices worn inside the shoes to help correct foot and ankle issues or pain. Unlike over-the-counter shoe inserts, orthotics are prescription medical devices that are specifically molded to address the user’s individual foot condition.
Orthotics are available in various forms and can be made of different materials. All orthotics are designed to improve the function of the foot and minimize factors that can cause foot pain and deformity.
Custom orthotics can be used to address a variety of foot and ankle conditions, including heel pain, ankle pain, pain in the ball of the foot, knee pain, lower back pain, and plantar fasciitis. They can also help reduce pain from injuries and tendinitis.
Orthotics are designed to control abnormal foot biomechanics. They subtly alter the angles at which the foot strikes the ground, making walking, standing, and running more comfortable. Orthotics may be used instead of surgery to correct foot deformities, or may be used to improve results after certain types of foot surgery.
Types of Orthotics
Orthotics are generally classified into three categories: those designed to adjust the function of the foot, those that are protective, and those that combine control and protection. Orthotics are typically also categorized into three types: rigid, soft or semirigid.
Rigid orthotics are designed to improve foot function and control motion in the major foot joints. These devices help address abnormal function in the foot, which can cause aches and pain in the legs, thighs, and lower back. They can also help correct a difference in the length of the legs.
Rigid orthotics are made of a firm material such as carbon fiber or plastic. They are typically made for walking or dress shoes and are typically used in closed-toe shoes with a heel height under two inches. The device typically extends from the heel to the ball of the foot or the toes. Rigid orthotics are long-lasting and do not change shape over time.
Rigid orthotics are made based on a mold of the foot to create the necessary fit and support. Because of the close fit, adjusting shoe size is typically not necessary.
Soft orthotic devices help improve balance, absorb shock, and relieve pressure from certain areas of the foot. They are constructed of soft materials and may conform to the shape and contours of the foot over time. These devices usually extend from the heel to the front of the foot and include the toes.
Soft orthotic devices can be easily adjusted to account for changes in force on weight-bearing areas. However, they must be periodically replaced. They are often used for arthritic or deformed feet that lack protective fatty tissue in a particular area of the foot. They are often commonly prescribed for individuals with diabetes.
Because soft orthotics are made with a compressible material, they are typically bulkier than rigid orthotics. Some adjustment in shoe size may be necessary to accommodate the device.
These devices are often used to improve balance for walking or athletic activities. Because different sports have varying physical demands, these orthotics must be constructed with the unique requirements of the activity and the athlete in mind. These devices help the foot function properly in the desired activity, which aids in optimal performance of muscles and tendons. Semirigid orthotics are constructed with layers of compressible material supported by a more rigid framework.
To get the most from their orthotic devices, individuals should wear shoes that accommodate their devices and bring them along whenever purchasing a new pair of shoes. Scheduling follow-up appointments with a podiatrist as recommended will help ensure the devices are functioning as intended and addressing the patient’s individual needs.