Almost everyone has suffered from foot pain at some point. A poll conducted by the American Podiatric Medical Association found that more than half of all Americans had missed a day of work because of foot problems. Considering that the feet are the major weight-bearing part of the body, it's little wonder we run into issues.
Foot problems are often treated with shoe inserts called orthotics. Custom-made foot and ankle orthotics are medical devices inserted into the shoe to correct an abnormal or irregular walking pattern. They work like shock absorbers, removing pressure and stress from painful areas in the foot and ankle. They can also prevent foot deformity or keep it from getting worse, better position the foot inside the shoe and improve the overall way that the foot and lower leg move.
Since foot orthotics change the way a person walks, stands and absorbs shock from the ground, anyone wishing to use them should have a good reason. An orthotics consultation with a professional with the proper training and credentials, such as Drs. Sung, Lee or Rinoie, is a smart first step. These types of doctors specialize in the feet and lower legs.
Custom orthotics prescribed by a doctor are very different from the premade kinds found in shoe stores, ski and skate shops, pharmacies, sporting goods stores or online. While orthotics can be made in several different ways, most podiatrists make a plaster mold of the patient's foot and send it to a laboratory with a prescription. Technicians pour plaster into the mold, and when it hardens, it exactly reproduces the bottom of the person’s foot. Based on the doctor's prescription, the technicians then custom make a device to meet the patient's specific needs.
Keep in mind that even custom foot orthotics need to be updated every two years. Certain aspects of walking may change in the patient, and the materials used to make the orthotic wear away and do not provide the same support the device initially provided.
For athletes, their sports result in a great deal of movement and pressure on the foot. Slight imbalances in the foot — which may not be harmful or even detectable under usual circumstances — may make a person more vulnerable to injury with the extra stress of sports activity. By eliminating the need for the muscles to compensate for imbalances you don’t know are there, orthotics can reduce fatigue and promote efficient muscle function to enhance performance.
A podiatrist will prescribe orthotics based on medical problems or pain a patient may be experiencing. The podiatrist will also watch how a patient moves (known as gait analysis) and consider other issues like their level and type of activity, foot type, and the movement of their ankle, knee and hip. The doctor may also require X-rays.
Orthotics are particularly effective in relieving foot fatigue and discomfort experienced by older adults, who may have developed arthritis in their feet. Orthotics may also be prescribed for children who have a foot deformity.
Types of orthotics vary, but there are three broad categories: those that are meant to change how the foot functions, those that protect the foot to reduce pain or discomfort, and those that combine both aspects.