It is said that the earliest versions of orthotics originated 1000 years ago when people would stuff cotton wool into their sandals or shoes (of the time) to add in comfort and extra support for the shape of the foot. With the advancements, we have made in the field of foot care and podiatry, we can accurately use technology to measure the contour of your foot and create personalised and tailored orthotics that can aid in the treatment and support of your natural gait.
Podiatrists are now able to use orthotics, also known as “shoe inserts or insoles”, to aid in the treatment of a wide variety of foot and gait-related disorders, prevent them from occurring in the first place and reduce the pain of already existing issues. Orthotics can benefit many people and ailments; whether you have flat feet, high arches, plantar fasciitis or Achilles tendonitis, orthotics can often help.
What are orthotics?
Orthotics are shoe inserts that come in a variety of shapes and sizes, dependent on what you need them for. Orthotics also come in 2 primary standards, off-the-shelf generic orthotics and fully customised and tailored orthotics, the latter being the better of the 2.
What kind of orthotics will I need?
The type of orthotics you need will greatly depend on the reason for which you need them. You should always visit a podiatrist or foot health professional to perform a biomechanical assessment or gait analysis before trying to use orthotics. A biomechanical assessment or gait analysis is a full breakdown and evaluation of your lower legs and feet and helps to diagnose any misalignments or problems that may be present.
What is the difference between over-the-counter and custom-made orthotics?
Over-the-counter orthotics – These can be purchased in most pharmacies and require no prescription. They are most commonly made from gel, plastic and/or foam and placed inside your shoes to provide additional support and comfort. They are often chosen based on the size of your shoes but are not explicitly tailored to your feet or problems and are often less successful than custom-made orthotics.
Custom-made orthotics – As it says in the name, custom-made orthotics are made and designed specifically to your requirements, targeting the source of your pain or discomfort to prevent it. They are most often prescribed by a podiatrist following a full biomechanical assessment or gait analysis and are tailored to your exact foot shape, height, weight and needs.
What conditions may require the use of orthotics?
Orthotics can be greatly beneficial to a whole host of foot and lower limb injuries and can even help with back pain. Some of the most common problems for which orthotics are provided are:
– Plantar fasciitis
– Heel Pain
– Achilles tendonitis
– Sports Injuries
– High arches
– Knee and back pain
The design and mould of the orthotic is imperative to the problem you are treating, as it’s shape and style could potentially have negative effects if it is not designed to treat your specific situation. In most cases, orthotics are not used as a stand-alone treatment option; they are used alongside other forms of treatment, such as changes in footwear, specific exercises and foot mobilisation therapy.
For what reasons might you need orthotics?
You have sustained an injury to your lower limbs –
If you have recently sustained an injury to your foot/feet, hip, knee, legs or even lower back, it’s possible that you may have altered your natural gait and you could be exerting excess pressure on your feet. If this has happened, it’s vital that you ensure your feet are correctly supported and your movement isn’t negatively affected, as this could lead to further issues and prevent the original problem from healing correctly. Orthotics can help to avoid this and stop future pain and discomfort.
You have pain in your foot –
If you have pain in your feet, you should consult a podiatrist as soon as possible, especially if there is swelling or large amounts of discomfort or pain when performing day-to-day activities. You shouldn’t have to put up or deal with pain and ignoring it will only worsen the problem.
One of the initial signs of plantar fasciitis is a sharp heel pain, often in the morning, when you first wake up. Plantar fasciitis is a condition that orthotics could definitely improve. The plantar fascia is the thick band of tissue that connects your heel to your toes and acts as a shock absorber for impact and, if injured, could become very painful. It can be worsened by various factors such as your weight, your foot’s natural shape and the shoes you wear. Through the use of orthotics, you can provide your foot and your plantar fascia with extra support to prevent it ever becoming a problem.
You have a deformity on your foot –
Genetic and biomechanical abnormalities such as flat feet, bunions or high heels can cause pain and discomfort in your feet. Even the most slight misalignment can cause pain in your heel, ankle, knees and back.
Custom-made orthotics can be specifically made to address each of the problems and prevent pain and discomfort by reducing excess areas of stress, realigning and rebalancing the foot and restoring proper foot functions.
You have a flat foot or high arch –
Flat feet or high arches are a leading cause of foot pain. Overpronation is the inward rolling of the foot and occurs when you have flat feet. Shoes are most commonly designed for feet with regularly shaped arches unless otherwise stated and provide little to no comfort or aid to someone with a flat or tightened arch. Orthotics can provide your feet with the extra support and stability needed, helping to minimise overpronation and relieve pressure on the arch.
High arches can lead to different problems, such as corns (usually your toe or foot experiencing excess pressure or friction due to improper foot shape), bunions, and foot pain. Orthotics can be designed to prevent this and help your feet maintain a more normal form and function.
You stand for long periods of the day –
What you do for work and your regular activities can have a huge impact on your overall health; being on your feet all day can cause pain in your knees, heel and feet, whereas sitting at a desk all day could cause pain in your neck and back.
Standing for long periods of time, typically around 5+ hours per day, causes damage and excess stress on your lower limbs in the form of muscular exhaustion.
Although fantastic, you may feel some discomfort from pregnancy, the developing baby will alter your centre of gravity and posture while you are pregnant. This, combined with an altered state of hormones, can weaken your pelvic joints and lead to a range of mobility difficulties. This could be in the form of a minor discomfort, severe pain and, in some cases, the inability to walk.
When you are pregnant, it is inevitable you will gain weight, which can, unfortunately, give you some difficulties in the form of poorer circulation and pain in your joints due to the excess pressure that is now being placed upon your feet. Custom orthotics have the potential to provide your feet with extra support and cushion your feet, which can help your circulation and place less strain on your knees and lower back.
Examining your damaged shoes –
When we examine your footwear, we can sometimes spot patterns and trends; sometimes, this can be indicative of the further need for investigation to decide if orthotics are right for you. Many people are unaware that if you wear shoes that are damaged, not correct for your feet or simply worn out, you will be severely harming your feet. Thinning insoles of shoes are unable to provide the right level of support for your feet, leading to over-pronation (your foot rolling inwards), under-pronation or supination(your foot rolling outwards).
A good pair of shoes can often be enhanced by a better pair of orthotics specifically designed to suit your feet. If you have an active lifestyle, orthotics can be of particularly good use for you as they help prevent your arches from rolling and provide extra support for your feet while playing sports.
The overall outcome is that orthotics are fantastic! They can correct posture, provide support for your foot and arches and spread the pressure on your feet, prevent pain and swelling and manage back pain. What’s not to like?
If you feel you could benefit from lower gait analysis and potentially orthotics, contact us. We would be happy to help!