Answering Your Questions about Custom Orthotics
When discussing potential treatments for foot and ankle conditions, the term “custom orthotics” can pop up in a variety of different cases. There’s a good reason for this, of course: they tend to be an effective option for many patients!
You may also hear the term being used outside a podiatry office, too—or even see it on the shelf of the local pharmacy or store. If custom orthotics are a consideration for your foot and ankle care, it’s only natural that you should want any questions about these items answered before choosing how you want to move forward.
We’ll be addressing many common questions about orthotics right here, so read on if you want some straight info. And if you still have unanswered questions, please don’t be afraid to reach out to us about them. We want you well informed!
What exactly are custom orthotics?
An orthotic is a device designed to provide cushioning and corrective support to the foot and ankle. Orthotics can help place the structure of the foot in a more natural and/or efficient position, as well as enforce a more natural walking pattern (i.e. gait).
The “custom” part, in a nutshell, means just that: the orthotic is customized to meet the size, shape, and needs of a patient’s feet. Like a custom motorcycle, except it’s likely going to feel much more comfortable being on your orthotics all day.
Most custom orthotics come in the form of an insert that is placed inside the shoe. The materials they are composed of can vary depending on whether areas of the feet need more cushioned support (softer materials) or more controlling support (rigid materials).
Who can custom orthotics help?
We usually consider custom orthotics for patients whose pain and discomfort stem from abnormalities in foot structure, shape, or gait.
In situations such as these, imbalances in foot mechanics can cause weight to become improperly distributed across the foot when you stand, walk, or run. Excess stress in certain areas can lead to pain and injuries.
For example, if you have flat arches/flat feet, that can place excess strain on the plantar fascia, a thick band of tissue that runs beneath your foot. When this becomes aggravated, it often leads to heel pain (in the form of plantar fasciitis). Custom orthotics may be able to properly redistribute weight across the feet, taking stress off the plantar fascia.
In addition to plantar fasciitis, custom orthotics might be recommended for those with:
- Other forms of heel pain
- Bunions, hammertoes, and other deformities
- Areas of the feet susceptible to developing sores
- Pain in the hips, knees, or back (if these problems are tied to foot structure)
It is worth noting that custom orthotics are not the only treatment for these conditions, and may not be the best recommendation for each individual case. Different treatments are better for different situations, and we determine best plans through an examination.
How are custom orthotics made?
After an evaluation, if it is agreed that custom orthotics are the way to go, we will then measure your feet for orthotics.
Measuring your feet may include making a mold or cast to obtain exact parameters for size and shape. A digital scanner might also be used, depending on the situation.
Once we have this data, we can then prescribe a set of custom orthotics to be made in a lab, using exact amounts of material to suit the needs of your feet as much as possible. Even millimeters can make a difference, meaning that no two pairs of custom orthotics are exactly alike. They work for you alone, much like a pair of prescription eyeglasses.
Do orthotics need to be custom made?
You have likely seen pre-fabricated inserts available in stores. These can help some people with relatively minor problems, but are very unlikely to provide as much support or direct help as ones made especially for you.
If we do ever recommend pre-fabricated orthotics to a patient, we can recommend a brand and type that would be best suited to your needs, and help provide the best fit as possible.
However, custom orthotics will almost always be a better overall choice for patients, both due to how close they can fit patient needs and their much higher durability.
Will custom orthotics cure my problem?
While custom orthotics can place your foot structure into a more natural alignment, they are not able to cause permanent changes. In other words, custom orthotics only work as long as you are wearing them.
As time marches on, the shape of your feet and their needs may change. We recommend periodic checkups (usually once per year) to review your orthotics and adjust, refurbish, or replace them as necessary.
However, surgery is the only permanent option to fix a structural deformity or abnormality.
Will wearing orthotics make my feet weaker?
It is easy to assume that having support for your feet means they won’t be “putting in enough effort” anymore.
However, that’s looking at things from the wrong perspective. Without orthotics, your feet are having to deal with too much pressure and force—more than they can handle. Orthotics are made to restore a balance that allows your muscles to function at normal, comfortable levels. Allowing your feet to function normally makes them stronger than having them constantly plagued with pain and strain.
Have More Questions? Let Us Know!
This isn’t the whole book on custom orthotics, certainly. You may have questions about your specific circumstances, or anything else that didn’t get covered here. We’d be happy to help you!
And whether orthotics are part of your ideal foot and ankle care plan or not, getting the help you need to address your problems is the best way to start finding relief!
Call our Medford office at (541) 776-3338 to schedule an appointment with us. If you prefer to send us questions via our online contact form instead, please do! We will respond to you during our normal office ours.