Custom-made (prescription) orthotics
Orthotics are custom-made shoe inserts, made from an electronic scanning or a plaster cast of the foot which is form-fitted to the foot when not bearing weight. There are different types of orthotics designed for different activities, various shoe gear and various foot ailments. An orthotic is designed to control the mechanics of the foot to a precise degree - from the heel contact phase of walking through mid stance and toe-off phases.
Orthotics fall into three broad categories: rigid, soft and semi-rigid. Rigid orthotics are designed to control function. They may be made of a firm material, such as plastic or graphite. Soft orthotics help absorb shock and take pressure off uncomfortable or sore spots. Semi-rigid orthotics provide dynamic balance of the foot while walking or participating in sports. Orthotics help guide the foot through proper functions, allowing the muscles and tendons to perform more efficiently.
What about orthotics and children?
Practically all foot imbalances that podiatrists see stem from childhood. Bunions, for example, thought to be cause by poor-fitting shoe gear are, in fact, primarily caused by abnormal foot mechanics and aggravated by shoes. These imbalances are recognized as early as age three or four. If a child has feet that flatten or "roll in" excessively (called hyper-pronation) chances are that they will experience more serious problems in later life. At an early age, structures of the foot can be repositioned to grow in proper alignment. Often, children will not complain of foot problems and so a check-up by a podiatrist is a good idea for all children.
How do I know if I need an orthotic?
If you are experiencing foot discomfort that persists, the origin may be biomechanical in nature, in which case, an orthotic would be helpful.
Many times, orthotics can help in situations of flat feet, high-arched foot structure, heel pain, bunions and even callus formation. Since the foot is the foundation of the body, symptoms at the ankle, knee, hip and lower back can be related.
Since orthotics can work in a preventative fashion to avoid potential foot problems, they may be indicated in some cases even though you are not experiencing pain. An example of this is when the foot rolls in or flattens excessively. This may lead to disabling problems in the future. Arthritis and soft tissue damage can result due to poor alignment of the foot. Have a podiatrist do an assessment of your feet in order to decrease the chance of potential future problems.
Aren't orthotics just expensive arch supports?
No. A simple arch support is designed to push up against the arch while standing. It is not meant for ‘static stance' or for ‘dynamic motion'. This means that an arch support is not designed to control the mechanics of foot imbalances, which are so varied that a precise prescription for each patient is often required.
Buying an arch support over-the-counter is similar to buying eye glasses off the shelf. An exact understanding of where the problem is required in order to obtain optimum results.