Orthotics! An Introduction
Posted by Jenn F. on Friday, July 13th, 2012
I’m sure I must have used the word “orthotics” about fifteen million times while writing this blog, give or take a few million. So isn’t it about time that we actually discuss orthotics?
What is an orthotic? An orthotic is actually any mechanical or artificial aid that helps you walk. Braces and artificial limbs are orthotics. However, we’re here to talk about foot orthotics.
What are foot orthotics? Glad you asked! Foot orthotics are devices that are designed to correct specific problems with your foot. They are inserts that you slide into your shoe. Usually they run the whole length of your foot, but there are also half foot orthotics made for forefoot or heel issues.
How do they work? Your podiatrist assesses your foot and determines what areas need help. If you have a high arch, the arch of the orthotic will fill in the arch and provide additional support. If you have flat feet, the orthotic will create an arch. If you overpronate, orthotics can help provide stability. If you have pain from metatarsalgia or a neuroma, an orthotic with a metatarsal bump can help diffuse some of pain. They can slow down the progression of bunions. Orthotics can do many things!
What are orthotics made from? Custom-fit orthotics from your podiatrist are usually plastics or other composite materials. Many of the ones sold over the counter in drug stores are made of gel materials to provide cushioning for your feet.
What’s the difference between orthotics you can buy at any drugstore and custom-fit orthotics? As noted above, the material can be a difference, with the ones from your podiatrist being much more durable; over the counter orthotics may last a few months, while custom-fit ones can last years. And of course, custom-fit ones are designed to fit your foot and your problems specifically, so they’ll probably be more comfortable. The over the counter ones are fine if you have a short-term foot problem like plantar fasciitis, but if you think something big is going on that needs long-term correction, it would be better to see a podiatrist at The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine (212.996.1900). and get good ones that will really help.
(On a personal note, I’ve used the drugstore ones and my biggest gripe with them is that they have to be trimmed to fit your shoe and that can lead to mistakes; cut them too short and they’re not growing back. They tend to be softer and move around in your shoe and are hard to slide into your shoe. The sticky glue on them can be annoying.)
How does a podiatrist custom fit my feet for orthotics? The classic method has always been to make a plaster cast of your feet, which can be fun. Some podiatrists have you make a foot imprint by stepping into a dense foam block, and others use a mat which analyzes the pressure points on your foot when you step on it and creates a model on a computer.
Is it hard to get used to wearing an orthotic? I actually never had any problems, but I imagine that it can be difficult for some, especially people with flat feet. The best thing to do is try wearing them for short periods of time and then try to increase the amount of time until they feel comfortable. It’s important to keep trying and not give up–you will get used to them. Most people do.
How do they affect the shoes I wear? You’ll probably need to go up half a size or a whole shoe size. Make sure you bring your orthotics when you go shoe shopping and test them in the shoes you try on. You probably can’t put them in sandals or high heels. It’s okay if you go without them for short periods of time, but in general try to choose shoes that allow you to wear them. Don’t worry, you can find plenty of great shoes that will allow you wear your orthotics–think of the search for these as the development of your own personal style!
I hope this finally gives you an idea of the wonderful world of orthotics!
If you have any foot problems or pain, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine. Dr. Josef J. Geldwert, Dr. Katherine Lai, Dr. Ryan Minara and Dr. Mariola Rivera have helped thousands of people get back on their feet. Unfortunately, we cannot give diagnoses or treatment advice online. Please make an appointment to see us if you live in the NY metropolitan area or seek out a podiatrist in your area.