Foot orthotics are one of our podiatry team’s specialties, with our knowledgeable team having built a strong reputation within our community for using expertly prescribed foot orthotics to help our patients recover from a range of pains and injuries, while also best supporting them through conditions from arthritis to ankle instability.
With that said - there’s a lot of mixed advice and reviews online (and in person) about the use of orthotics: they work brilliantly for some, not so much for others, and while some people report being able to spend a full painless day on their feet for the first time in years after getting orthotics, others can report discomfort. So the real question remains: do orthotics really work? And of course, if they do work, how is it possible that they can help with so many different pains and problems?
Here are the actual facts of orthotics - and what they can and can’t do, reported by our leading podiatry team.
First: Let’s Define What An Orthotic Is - And What It Isn’t
In order to explain whether orthotics really work, we need to clarify what orthotics are and what they’re not. In today’s world of marketing and sales tactics, many companies are eager to label every shoe insert as an ‘orthotic’. Thin, fabric-based shoe liners - labelled ‘orthotics’. A liner with a one-size gel pad in the arch - labelled ‘orthotic’. Any shoe insert that comes pre-made and is advertised to fix all your foot problems? Also labelled an ‘orthotic’.
And therein lies the problem and mixed results. None of these devices are actually true orthotics - much like how the reading glasses you pick up from the supermarket have no comparison to the prescription lenses and frames you get from your optometrist following a comprehensive assessment of your vision, eye health, eye shape - and a true understanding of your needs to give you both the best vision and support your eye health for the years to come.
Orthotics are medical devices prescribed by podiatrists who have years of knowledge and experience in all aspects of orthotic prescription, paired with a wealth of knowledge of how each bone, muscle and tendon in your feet and legs work together to produce movement. This means your podiatrist knows exactly how their unique prescription will adjust your foot function and loading, and thereby best support your recovery and comfort. This is also how and why orthotics are used as part of the management of a range of pains and problems - with each pair being designed to function very differently depending on what you’re experiencing and your personal circumstances.
Next: Foot Orthotics Are Not Created Equally. Here’s Why.
Next, it’s important to note that even within the world of true orthotics, they’re not created equally. Much like how a jeweller will craft your unique piece of jewellery based on their own level of experience, skill sets, interactions with you and their strengths resulting in crafting notably different designs - orthotics are also very much dependent on your podiatrists skill sets and areas of expertise within podiatry.
Here at Merivale podiatry, expert orthotic prescription is something that we do daily, adding unique knowledge from areas of interest into each orthotic design, including sports and injury podiatry, dance podiatry, rheumatology (arthritis) and more. During our orthotic prescription process, we go through an extensive list of prescription options, carefully and thoughtfully deciding on everything from the material, thickness and angles of your orthotic base to any cut-outs within the orthotics for offloading, to the compatibility of the materials used to the sports you’re involved with alongside your job if you’re on your feet all day - even the effect of your orthotics given your previous knee injury and the types of shoes you’ll be wearing them in.
Simply put, we consider everything to give you a comprehensive product that is, in our humble opinion, unrivalled. We do this because we know the difference that orthotics have to the lives of our patients. We also regularly review your orthotics to feel confident that they’re doing their job well and you’re satisfied with your progress.
So What Can Orthotics Help With?
While not everyone needs orthotics, and whether orthotics are suitable for you can depend on various personal circumstances, some of the conditions we regularly use orthotics for include:
- Achilles pain
- Heel pain
- Ankle pain and instability
- Foot pain contributed to by flat feet or high arches
- Joint damage or swelling
- Leg length differences
- Tendon injuries, overuse and pain
- Stress fractures
- Sports injuries
- Arthritis for comfort and pain relief
- Children’s growing pains
- Shin splints and shin pain
- Nerve compression and irritation
Getting Orthotics That Actually Work
In order to get orthotics that will work for you, it’s critical to have a biomechanical assessment that comprehensively assesses your feet and legs, including muscle strength testing, joint flexibility and range of motion, foot posture assessment, gait assessment, understanding the nature and causes of your injury or problem, and understanding a range of your personal and lifestyle factors. Here at Merivale Podiatry, we then use a 3D infrared foot scanner to capture your foot with intricate precision, which will be used to help your orthotics fit perfectly and ensure the best placement of any specific orthotic additions you need to thrive on your feet.
Education is also a big part of your treatment with us, so alongside your orthotics, we’ll teach you everything you need to know about taking care of your feet throughout your recovery (as well as taking care of your orthotics), and will discuss any other parts of your treatment plan that are needed to get you the best results - as in many cases, orthotics get the best results when working together with the right shoes and perhaps some targeted, hands-on rehab techniques - though this will vary greatly from person to person.
Remember that your orthotics aren’t just a one-off to help you recover now, that you then discard after you’re pain-free. In most cases, the corrective features of your orthotics will also serve as a powerful tool to prevent your injury from recurring in the future, by addressing the various biomechanical ‘causes’ of the injury in the design of the orthotics. That's why many of our patients continue to wear their orthotics in their sports shoes or during exercise or work long after they’ve become pain-free.
If you’re unsure about whether orthotics are right for you or can help in your unique circumstances or for your pain or injury - get in touch with our team.