What Are Orthotics?

Orthotics (also known as orthotic shoe inserts) are corrective devices placed inside the patients shoes with the purpose of restoring  natural foot function. This is necessary when the natural biomechanical balance of our lower body has been disrupted by poor alignment. Most common complaints such as heel pain, knee pain and lower back pain are caused by poor foot alignmenet and  biomechanics. Biomechanics is the study of the body’s movements during walking, running and sports. The most common form of bad foot biomechanics is over-pronation, which is the dropping of the arches and rolling inwards of the feet and ankles, it affects about 70% of the population.

Orthotic insoles correct over-pronation by realigning the foot and ankle bones to their natural position, restoring normal foot function. As normal alignment is returned, pain in other parts of the body such as, back, hips and knees, will begin to be alleviated.

Who Needs Orthotics?

The fact that so many of us suffer from over-pronation due to fallen arches can be blamed on the hard, flat surfaces we walk on daily. Of course other factors such as age, weak ankles, and excess body weight play a role as well and as a result, over-pronation is much more prevalent in people in their fifties and older, and overweight people.

Over-pronation doesn’t pose a serious problem in many cases, especially for younger people. However, abnormal foot function caused by over-pronation can lead to serious foot problems like heel pain, spurs, plantar fasciitis, metatarsalgia – even knee pain and lower back pain in severe cases.

Orthotics correct the problem of over-pronation, and will help reduce or eliminate many common problems and associated pains.

Because orthotics are inexpensive they offer a great solution to the over-pronation problem. It is wise to buy a pair of orthotics early as they will help to prevent many lower body disorders.

How Are Orthotics Different From Regular Shoe Insoles?

There’s a significant difference between regular insoles and orthotics. Regular insoles are purely designed to provide a cushioning effect and shock absorption. They may feel comfortable at first, however they do not address any biomechanical problems, i.e. they are not designed to correct over-pronation. On the other hand, orthotics are a functional device, designed to correct and optimize our foot function. Some insoles also feature an arch support, however they tend to be mostly made of soft materials. As a result, the support they provide is often too weak to have any effect.

How do orthotics exactly work? First of all, orthotics do a lot more than support the arches. Orthotics realign the feet and ankles, and restore deficient foot function. In addition, orthotics enable a more even weight distribution, taking pressure off sore spots (e.g. the heels, the ball of the foot, corns in between toes, and bunions). They also provide some degree of shock absorption, but this is not their main purpose. The main purpose of an orthotic insole is to improve foot function, in many cases reducing pain and preventing serious problems and injuries in the future.

Orthotics Assessment

Functional foot orthotic therapy is the gold standard for maintenance of biomechanical imbalances.

How do you know if orthotics are for you? One way of course is upon recommendation from your podiatrist or other physician, Another is through self assessment. The over-the-counter or quasi-custom types capture the foot “as is,” however, they may help if your pain is minor and short term. Experience has shown this route to be effective about 35% of the time.

Generally speaking, if you are one of the many people who tend to have structural problems such as flat feet, high arches, bow-legs, knock-knees, arthritis or have deformities, such as bunions, you should consider orthotics even in the absence of pain. Orthotics would also be a consideration if you have a family history of foot problems or a personal history of tendinitis, bursitis, heel/arch problems, repetitive strains and shin splints. Even some knee, hip and low back problems can be helped by these devices. High impact sports activities such as running, basketball, football, soccer, baseball, volleyball, racquetball, tennis, some aerobics, long distance hiking, skiing may also require orthotics in the injury prone athlete.

Note: We have not covered orthotics for children, a whole separate article, but suffice it to say that there are indications with one clear advantage – not only can foot function be improved but permanent structural changes can be achieved.

To Schedule your orthotics appointment with Dr. Niccoli, Call 1-510-521-3410 today!