At some point, you’ve probably heard about custom orthotics. You might even know a few people who have worn them. But how much do you really know about them?
Whenever we talk about custom orthotics or recommend them as a treatment option with our patients, we usually get a lot of questions. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of misunderstanding and misinformation about these often essential devices, which are insoles worn inside shoes to address a specific medical problem.
So, we thought it would be helpful to write this blog as a way to answer the most frequent questions we hear, and separate the fact from the fiction. Let’s begin!
Are Custom Orthotics the Same as the Gel Shoe Inserts I Can Buy at the Pharmacy?
No, they are not.
Gel inserts or other types of prefabricated orthotics you buy off the shelf are mass-produced. They are designed to provide a little bit of extra cushioning and support for a small selection of “average” foot types.
On the other hand, custom orthotics (as the name suggests) are custom-designed to fit a specific pair of feet—in other words, yours!
Don’t be fooled by slick-looking stations at the pharmacy that measure your footprint and provide a “prescription” for a specific insert. While these machines can help you pick out prefabricated orthotics that will perform better than anything else on the shelf, that still isn’t the same as getting truly custom orthotics.
So Custom Orthotics Are Better than Off-the-Shelf Inserts?
The short answer is yes, though we’ll clarify that a bit in the next question.
As we said, mass produced insoles are really there to provide a little extra cushioning and support, and they work best if your foot pain is relatively minor and your foot shape is relatively normal or average.
Because custom orthotics can be made from a variety of materials and are made to precisely fit a specific pair of feet, they can deliver a higher level of performance and treat a wider range of conditions successfully.
So Do I Need Custom Orthotics? Should I Even Bother with Prefabricated Orthotics?
Not everybody requires the extra precision that custom orthotics offer.
If you do not have a specific foot or lower limb diagnosis, and you’re only experiencing moderate discomfort—perhaps even only when you wear a certain pair of shoes or perform certain activities—then you probably do not need a custom solution. Again, this is especially true if you have a fairly normal foot type.
You may wish to purchase a pair of gel insoles, put them in your shoes, and see if it relieves your pain and makes your favorite shoes more comfortable. If that works, great! If not, you may want to visit our office to determine if custom orthotics, or even a different pair of gel insoles, will get you the results you need.
Is There a Place I Can Go to Get Custom Orthotics?
Yes—one of our offices!
But if you were thinking there might be a store or online retailer you could visit, the answer is no. Custom orthotics must be prescribed by a trained medical professional.
There’s more to the process than just sending measurements of your feet to a laboratory. The prescription only comes after we’ve had the opportunity to make a thorough examination of not just your feet, but your entire lower limb biomechanics.
This assessment allows us to see the whole picture of how your feet and ankles move together and support your body, then identify the root causes of your pain. We need that information first before we can determine if custom orthotics can help; and, if so, what kind of custom orthotics you need.
Are Custom Orthotics a “Cure-All” for Every Foot Ailment?
Some people get that impression! But of course, you should always be suspicious of anyone who promises a perfect solution.
It is true that custom orthotics are highly versatile, and can be used to treat many kinds of foot pain. That’s because unstable biomechanics are a root cause behind many of the most common foot ailments, and custom orthotics are extremely good at correcting those biomechanics. Remove the root cause of the pain, and in time the pain goes away.
But they are not a cure-all, particularly if your condition is not related to biomechanics. Orthotics aren’t going to do much for your athlete’s foot or dry, cracked heels!
Some conditions that do tend to respond very well to custom orthotics include:
- Plantar fasciitis. Persistent pain under the heel, due to inflammation or tearing in the plantar fascia in the bottom of the foot. It’s the most common form of heel pain among U.S. adults.
- Metatarsalgia. Persistent pain in the balls of the feet. It can occur for a variety of reasons, including stress fractures, soft tissue inflammation, or a neuroma.
- Arthritis. Joint pain in the feet. Your orthotics can keep weight and pressure away from arthritic joints and protect them against excessive motion.
- Diabetic feet. Orthotics are an essential tool for eliminating pressure and friction zones that are likely to produce diabetic ulcers. They may also support a degenerating foot structure and keep it from getting worse.
Other conditions that may benefit from custom orthotics, depending on the circumstances, include shin splints, Achilles tendinitis, bunions, hammertoes, and others. But again, we’ll need to examine your feet closely first before determining what treatment options will work best for you.
Should I Make an Appointment?
If you’re currently suffering from foot pain that is reducing your quality of life or keeping you from the things you love, the answer is absolutely yes!
Maybe custom orthotics are the best choice for your situation. Maybe the right pair of gel insoles, or even a better pair of shoes, is all you really need. Either way, we’re here to make sure you get the right type of care you need to feel better and get back on your feet.
Call us at any of the numbers below to schedule a visit at your preferred location, or request an appointment online and a member of our staff will reach out to you.
- Hillsborough (908) 722-3668
- Edison (908) 222-8980
- Warren (732) 356-3668
- East Brunswick (732) 254-9302