Orthotic devices (or ‘orthotics’ as they are colloquially referred) are mechanisms created to correct biomechanical imperfections in order to heal certain types of injury or to improve overall function. Foot orthotics are most commonly prescribed for feet as arch inserts – they are meant to correct pronation of the foot (flat-feet) or supination of the foot (high arches). Ideally, orthotic prescriptions relieve foot pain, injuries caused by foot defects, and other similar afflictions. Orthotics are custom designed following the consultation of a podiatrist, osteopathic doctor, or MD.
What are orthotics used for primarily?
Orthotics for feet are made to correct harmful and oftentimes painful walking/running patterns, to provide additional support in the aftermath of an injury related to foot structure, or to provide preventative support if an injury is highly probable considering an individual’s occupation and foot biomechanics.
How do they work?
Orthotic inserts redistribute the force impacted on the feet when an individual walks or runs. This can make running and walking more efficient and comfortable, conserving energy while absorbing shock. Orthotic production is becoming more efficient and technological every day.
What is a Podiatrist?
A podiatrist – or Doctor of Podiatric Medicine (DPM) – is a physician who specializes exclusively in caring for areas of the foot and ankle. Podiatrists are given training similar to that of a medical doctor – four years of undergraduate, then several years of training at one of nine accredited US medical schools of podiatry, followed by about three years of internship at a hospital. DPMs are often trained in surgery of the feet and ankles. They are in no way a lesser medical authority; podiatrists have the same amount of knowledge, it’s just all localized to the specifics of the foot and ankle and their treatment. In fact, DPMs are sought by other medical professional for their heightened understanding of the feet/ankles and for their skills associated with doctor-patient relationships. DPMs can specialize within their specialty; which leaves some primarily caring to the needs of diabetics. DPMs are regulated and licensed through the Department of Consumer Affairs’ Board of Podiatric Medicine.
Where do I find a DPM?
Your doctor could refer you to one – a referral increases your likelihood of a timely appointment – or you could contact the California Podiatric Medical Association for contact information on DPMs near you. They are available at (800) 794-8988; or at the site www.podiatrists.org. An informed patient is a healthier patient – contact the Department of Consumer Affairs at www.dca.ca.gov to confirm your DPM’s license and review their malpractice history. Similar information is available at the Board of Podiatric Medicine via the line (916) 263-2647 or at the address www.bpm.ca.gov.
I’m not an athlete – why are orthotics still relevant to me?
It is true that athletes, runners in particular, use their feet in a way which almost always can be benefitted by orthotic care. Running can put three times an individual’s body weight of force on the running feet. Minute foot structural imperfections are amplified when put under such weight, often resulting in injury or pain. But nobody has a perfect set of feet…orthotic need should be evaluated on a person to person basis until professional consultation can determine the origins of pain or injury. A slight change in body positioning via an orthotic device can profoundly improve the lives of many afflicted with daily pain. Possible red flags for orthotic treatment include: Recurrent Pain (especially back, knees, hips, ankles, legs, thighs, and feet); Feet pointing more outward/inward than usual, toes that are not all perpendicular to the foot’s base, or frequent minor injuries (like a sprained ankle).
But don’t they sell foot inserts in shoe stores?
Though affordable, pre-fabricated shoe inserts do not help everyone. In fact, improperly worn, such inserts can aggravate a problem or even create problems where there weren’t before. When in doubt, always seek the advice of a medical profession to determine how orthotic prescription is preferable to a generic in your particular case.
Well how are custom-orthotics made?
Custom orthotics are cast from molds made by a patient’s foot taken at a podiatrist’s office. Some podiatrists have the tools to create their own orthotic devices, but most send the prescription to a pedortic/orthotic laboratory (similar to how some dentists send away for dentures). The professionals who work for such orthotic-producing companies are called pedorthists or orthotists.
Can foot orthotics replace surgery?
If orthotics are an option in the place of surgery, it is definitely preferable – but would likely only help over long term use, unlike surgery. Meaning, if you are at the point of surgery, orthotics will most likely only be relevant in a post-operation regimen. However, orthotics are provided in order to prevent surgery quite often (that than to substitute it).
Do any conditions warrant special care in choosing orthotics?
There are conditions which much be treated very delicately when orthotics are involved. Heel pain, plantar fasciitis and other require a gait analysis before deciding on orthotics. These primarily concern (but are not limited to) the conditions of arthritis and diabetes. Diabetics especially require specialized orthotic care; meaning a diagnosis and prescription from a licensed medical professional.
Pain is not ordinary, and orthotics – if properly prescribed – are options for many individuals with all kinds of varying lifestyles and medical conditions. They can be tremendously effective. Never settle for a life in pain, always explore your medical options.