Custom orthotics are one of the most versatile treatment tools any podiatrist has in her toolkit. They aren’t necessary or appropriate for every situation, of course—no treatment is.
But the list of symptoms and conditions that can be prevented, treated, or accommodated through this medical device—provided the underlying causes and factors make sense—is very long. And not only limited to foot and ankle conditions, either!
To understand why, you need to understand a couple of things about your feet, and how foot health relates to the health of your entire body.
Two Analogies About Feet
Here’s the first key analogy:
Your feet are your foundation.
Or in other words, just as an entire house or building rests upon a solid foundation, your entire body rests upon your feet.
If a building’s foundation is cracking, crumbling, tilting, or otherwise not good enough, you’ll start to see the symptoms throughout the rest of the building. Cracks spread across the walls and ceilings. Doors and windows stick or won’t shut all the way. Cabinets start to separate from the wall. Floors sag and slope.
Likewise, if your feet aren’t structured properly—say you have an excessively flat arch, or a misaligned hindfoot—it affects every part of your standing skeletal system.
If the foot is out of place, the shins, knees, thighs, and hips will probably be out of place as well, because they have to compensate for the unstable foundation beneath them. That puts extra stress, strain, and pain on them, too.
Now, the second key analogy:
Orthotics for your feet are like glasses or contacts for the eyes
This analogy may seem like more of a stretch, but bear with us for a minute.
When you stop and think about it, the incredible thing about glasses is that, even though they don’t actually fix your eyes or eyesight, they allow you to see just as clearly as someone with perfect eyes. The lens bends the light in just the right way before it reaches your eyes, so that the image is clearly focused by the time it reaches your retinas.
Take your lenses off, and world goes blurry. Put them back on, and those same defective, structurally compromised eyes can do their job flawlessly.
You can think of custom orthotics in much the same way. Structurally compromised feet can lead to all sorts of painful symptoms, depending on what kind of defects you have. Maybe your arch isn’t flexing enough to absorb impact forces, or too much weight is being shifted to the front of the foot.
But when a podiatrist fits and prescribes you the correct custom orthotics, the insert can cushion, support, and even reposition your feet so that weight and pressure is both reduced and distributed more evenly. This allows even a structurally deficient foot to function as well as a “normal” one.
Conditions That Can Be Treated by Custom Orthotics
Again, custom orthotics will not always be an appropriate or effective choice for every person who experiences one of the following conditions. Painful symptoms can have complex causes.
However, when they are linked with structural foot defects that can be accommodated or functionally improved by orthotics, then they are often a great treatment choice.
- Heel pain. Orthotics can elevate and cushion the heel, reducing the blow of impact forces and helping you manage conditions like plantar fasciitis and heel spurs.
- Arch pain. Orthotics can support a flatted arch, and provide an extra bit of shock absorption and flex to dissipate pressures more effectively.
Forefoot pain. Orthotics can counteract the effects of excessive pronation or flat arches, which place extra pressure and friction at the balls of the feet. Related conditions include metatarsalgia and Morton’s neuroma.
- Diabetic wounds. Soft orthotics can offload pressure on feet and reduce the risk of injuries and ulcerations in diabetic patients.
- Foot deformities. Conditions like bunions and hammertoes are often the result of structural foot problems. Use of orthotics may prevent or slow the progression of these conditions.
- Knee, hip, and back pain. Remember what we said about feet being your foundation? Orthotics that realign feet and normalize lower limb biomechanics will also realign and reduce stress elsewhere in your body.
Why Orthotics Are So Versatile
If you’ve ever browsed racks of prefabricated, cushioned insoles at a large pharmacy, you already know that those can come in a wide variety of styles and materials.
Now, consider that custom orthotics prescribed by your podiatrist have even more variety. They can be made from all sorts of materials—from the softest and squishiest gel or foam, to semi-rigid materials like cork or graphite, all the way to hard plastic.
Furthermore, some orthotics are meant to simply add shock absorption, while others are actually designed to alter the position of your feet and the motion of your joints.
When a podiatrist evaluates your foot biomechanics and measures your feet for the orthotics (via a mold or digital scan), she’ll be able to determine which kind of orthotics are likely going to provide effective results.
Even if you don’t need a set of custom orthotics, a professional evaluation can still help you pick out a good pair of store-bought prefabricated orthotics—saving you money and the guesswork of figuring out which pairs are more or less likely to work for you.
And the results can be amazing. We’ve seen up-close how the right pair of orthotics can get somebody who was once barely able to walk without pain running and enjoying life again!
So if you find that your feet—or even your legs or back—are constantly in pain after even a moderate amount of activity, there’s a good chance the right pair of orthotics can help significantly. To schedule a time to have Dr. Thapar, Ankle & Foot Specialist of NJ, assess and treat your feet, give us a call today!