How Orthotics Help Relieve Foot Pains and Aches

What exactly is an 'Orthotic'?

An Orthotic is a generic name for Orthotic Insoles/Shoe inserts or Orthoses used as a device that can be placed inside shoes to correct and restore the normal function of our feet. Improper foot biomechanics are responsible for many complaints such as heel pain, knee pain, and lower back pain.

Biomechanics is the science of movement that studies motion during walking, running, and sports.

Over-pronation is the term used to designate poor foot biomechanics. It makes your foot arch drop or flatten while the feet and ankles roll inwards. It is anticipated that nearly 70 percent of the population suffer from over-pronation.

Orthotics correct this over-pronation effect by restoring the feet and ankles to their normal position desired for natural foot functioning. The procedure not only alleviates foot problems but also gives relief to various other functions of the human body.

What are the different types of Orthotics available?

Generally speaking there are 3 different types of Orthotics. These are:

1) Custom-made (rigid) Orthotics

For patients suffering from more serious biomechanical disorders the custom-made (rigid) Orthotics provide a better solution. The devices are only available from a Podiatrist. Over-pronation is the most common ailment most people suffer from. Conversely, the opposite of 'pronation' is 'supination'. People suffering from this manifestation find their feet roll outwards or 'supinate' and the arch stiffens up remaining high as the foot makes contact with the ground. The deformity affects a mere 5 percent of the population and is called a Cavus or High Arch Foot. Supinators need custom-made Orthotic devices that correct the malfunction.

Persons who suffer from other deformities like large bunions, foot ulcers or completely flat feet also need to consult a Podiatrist.

How Does a Podiatrist Perform?

After initial diagnosis the Podiatrist decides on a 'customised' prescription orthotic. This is followed by a plaster cast of the patients foot (namely a negative or ‘female impression’) after which the initial cast is sent to the Orthotic Fabrication Laboratory to process further. From this mould a positive or male impression is formed by pouring plaster and the result is an accurate copy of the underfoot. The Orthotist or Orthotic technician fabricates the custom Orthotic that includes all the adjustments as prescribed by the Podiatrist. Now the rigid or semi-rigid Orthotic device is ready for use by the patient. Though these are very useful devices many patients find the use cumbersome and do not easily get used to the Orthotic.

2) Heat-Moldable Orthotics:

Heat-moldable  orthotics are cheaper alternatives to expensive customised Orthotics that can cost $400 - $600 per pair. They are standard 'off-the-shelf' flexible devices made from medium density EVA material. The device can be heated to slightly alter its shape. Sometimes, wedges are added for a more customised result. Heat-moldable Orthotics cost around $100 to $140 and are much easier to get used to than custom rigid Orthotics.

3) Pre-fabricated ‘off the shelf’ Orthotic:

Pre-fabricated Orthotics are soft-medium density shoe inserts available from pharmacies, on-line specialist websites, and some physiotherapists or chiropractors. People will get used to such Orthotics almost immediately and the cost ranges from $30 to $50 per pair. Research has shown that for 80% of people suffering from over-pronation, a pre-fabricated Orthotic will provide sufficient correction. Also after a few weeks of wear, these types of Orthotics will customise to the wearer’s foot shape as a result of body weight and body heat. Most pre-fabricated Orthotic are made from EVA, a flexible material that supports the foot without hurting the arches. Especially children and elderly people benefit from a softer type of Orthotic since they cannot tolerate anything hard under the foot.



What is the difference between orthotics and regular footbeds?

There is a large difference between Footbeds and Orthotics! Regular Footbeds are purely designed to provide a cushioning effect and shock absorption. At first they may feel comfortable however footbeds do not effectively address any biomechanical problem since they do not correct over-pronation. Whereas orthotics are functional devices designed to correct and optimise our foot function. Some footbeds also feature an arch support though it may be too weak to have any appreciable effect. This is especially true if the material of construction is very soft and rubber-like.

How does an orthotic exactly work?

First of all orthotics do a lot more than just supporting the arches. They realign the feet and ankles, restoring faulty foot function. Additionally, orthotics provide even weight distribution and take the pressure of sore spots from heels, ball of the foot, corns and between toes, and bunions. Though it is not their main purpose, the orthotics do provide some degree of shock absorption as well.

The main purpose of an orthotic insole is to improve the foot function and in many cases it will reduce pain and will help prevent future problems and injury.

There have been suggestions from various quarters that the use of Orthotics may weaken the foot muscles. According to a recent research paper from Australia “there are no reasons to doubt any decrease in muscle activity even after four weeks usage. Therefore Foot Orthoses users may not be worried through these unsupported statements.”

What ailments can orthotics be used for?

Years of use has proven that most foot complaints will respond favourably to treatment with orthotics. These devices are found to be very effective for treating heel pain, heel spurs, plantar fasciitis, pain from bunions, callous and corns, Achilles Tendonitis, Ball of Foot Pain and Morton's Neuroma.

Our feet are the foundation of our body. Many problems in the legs, knees and back can be attributed to poor foot biomechanics. Therefore, orthotics can be very useful in the treatment of shin splints, knee pain and lower back pain. This is the reason that many physiotherapists and chiropractors have started using orthotics.

Over-pronation of the feet is the cause for the lower leg to rotate inwards and the pelvis to tilt forward - in turn putting a lot of strain and stress on the legs, knees and back. Orthotics corrects the problem of over-pronation and therefore greatly reduce internal leg rotation and forward pelvic tilt.

A study from the USA "identified the nature of a person's walk as a source of chronic lower back pain," The study further showed more than a fifty percent improvement in alleviation of back pain after wearing orthotics.
Sources:

The Journal of American Podiatric Medicine May 1999, Sobel E, Levity S T,Caselli MA Division of Orthopedic Sciences,New York College of Podiatric Medicine

Vol. 94 Number 6 542-549 2004 Journal of American Podiatric Medicine

”The Conservative Management of Plantar Fasciitis”- Pfeffer GB , University of California, San Francisco, CA.

“Chronic Low-Back Pain and Its Response to Custom-Made Foot Orthoses” HOWARD J. DANANBERG, DPM, MICHELLE GUILIANO, DPM

Peter Van Dyke is a Dutch foot specialist and orthotist with a special interest in heel pain, knee-pain, low back pain and orthotics. He gives advice on effective remedies to help relieve aching feet and prevent further problems. He also works closely with a number of large orthotics manufacturers in Europe, the USA and Australia.