As with any professional field, we have many tools in the podiatric community to achieve desired results. One of the most versatile is the use of orthotic devices.
When you hear the word “orthotics,” there’s a chance you might think about the inserts you can buy at the store, like Dr. Scholl’s or other such models.
Those inserts have some value—particularly for providing extra cushion or arch support—but they are not even close to the customized devices we prescribe for our patients.
(Inserts you can buy at Meijer should not be used to treat a medical condition!)
Over-the-counter inserts are mass-produced and created as a “one size fits all” product, but not all feet are identical. Basic foot structure—five toes, heel, ankle, etc.—might be the same, but every foot has unique differences in structure and biomechanical processes, meaning everyone walks a bit differently. On top of all of that, there are many possible conditions that can affect foot health and function.
Why Do We Prescribe Orthotics?
Custom orthotics help patients overcome painful issues and can be used to treat conditions as diverse as bunions, cavus foot (high, rigid foot arches), flatfoot, metatarsalgia (forefoot pain), and plantar fasciitis (the leading cause of heel pain for adults).
These medical devices are customized to the unique specifications of a patient’s feet, typically fit within regular footwear, and allow normal movement (often in a biomechanically-improved manner). When ailments are discovered early on, the use of custom orthotics can reduce the odds surgery will be needed later on down the road.
Orthotic devices generally fall into one of two categories – functional and accommodative. Functional orthotics are constructed from sturdy materials and are prescribed to restrict motion. Accommodative orthotics tend to be made from softer materials and can provide additional cushioning to account for structural abnormalities.
The primary reason that orthotics are so effective at addressing medical issues is the simple fact they are customized for a patient’s unique feet and gait pattern. We can also use them to treat hammertoe, Morton’s neuroma, and limb length deformities. We may prescribe orthotic devices as treatment (and prevention) for neuropathic ulceration.
There are also as many types of orthotic inserts as there are conditions that benefit from using them as part of a treatment plan. These include:
- Heel wedges used to guide the foot into turning either inward or outward and prevent the ankle region from sliding down the incline.
- Heel flares used to prevent inward or outward turning and offer stability.
- Sole wedges used to promote healthy pronation or supination, depending on their lateral or medial construction.
- Rocket bars used to shift the rollover point from the metatarsal head to the metatarsal shaft to prevent discomfort in patients who have foot ulcers.
- Toe crests used to fill the void under the under toes. (These devices are typically closer to the body and are often placed behind the second, third, and fourth toes to reduce stress.)
How Do Orthotics Help Pronation Issues?
In addition to a wide array of medical conditions and injuries, orthotic devices are also used to correct pronation abnormalities. Pronation is a natural process used by feet in every step they take. During the ground portion of a step, the foot rotates inwards from the heel strike all the way through the final push of the toes. This rotation isn’t intended to be particularly great—around fifteen percent is ideal—but it is quite important for ensuring proper distribution of the forces that come from walking and running.
Depending on an individual’s foot structure, he or she may either pronate too much (overpronation) or not enough (supination). As a general rule, overpronation is often linked to flatfoot and supination is connected to excessively-high foot arches. These pronation abnormalities lead to unequitable distribution of force loads, which means that certain areas of the foot face more pressure than they are intended. This can lead to a variety of issues.
The good news is that custom orthotics can help with either of these biomechanical irregularities.
Are Ankle-Foot Orthotics the Same as Orthotics?
Many orthotics are designed to slip inside your shoes and reside there unseen; however, sometimes it is necessary for our doctors at Northwood Foot and Ankle Center to prescribe orthotic braces.
Ankle-foot orthotics (AFOs) are designed to control the ankle’s position and motion to compensate for deformities and weakness caused by conditions like arthritis or drop foot. AFOs can also be used to treat peripheral neuropathy, disorders that affect muscle function, and stroke patients.
Stop Your Foot Pain Today!
When you come see us for any foot or ankle condition, there is a chance we may recommend a pair of custom orthotics. If we do, hopefully now you understand why.
No matter what type of orthotic is right for you, Northwood Foot and Ankle Center will make sure you are prescribed custom orthotic inserts that alleviate pain and discomfort. If you experience any of the conditions orthotics treat, contact us at (616) 393-8886 and schedule an appointment with either our Holland or St. Joseph offices today!