When discussing potential treatments for foot and ankle conditions, the term custom orthotics can pop up in various cases. Of course, there's a good reason for this: they tend to be an effective option for many patients!
You may also hear the term being used outside a podiatry office or even see it on the shelf of the local pharmacy or store. It's only natural that you should want any questions about custom orthotics answered before considering them for your foot and ankle care.
We'll be addressing many common questions about orthotics right here, so read on if you want some straight info. And if you still have unanswered questions, please don't be afraid to reach out to us about them. We want you well informed!
What Exactly Are Custom Orthotics?
An orthotic device is designed to provide cushioning and corrective support to the foot and ankle. Orthotics can help place the foot's structure in a more natural and efficient position and enforce a more natural walking pattern. The "custom" part, in a nutshell, means just that: the orthotic is customized to meet the size, shape, and needs of a patient's feet.
Most custom orthotics come in the form of an insert placed inside the shoe. The materials they are composed of can vary depending on whether areas of the feet need more cushioned support (softer materials) or more controlling support (rigid materials).
Who Can Custom Orthotics Help?
We usually consider custom orthotics for patients whose pain and discomfort stem from abnormalities in foot structure, shape, or gait.
In such situations, imbalances in foot mechanics can cause weight to become improperly distributed across the foot when you stand, walk, or run. Excess stress in certain areas can lead to pain and injuries.
For example, flat arches/flat feet can place excess strain on the plantar fascia, a thick band of tissue that runs beneath your foot. When this becomes aggravated, it often leads to heel pain (in the form of plantar fasciitis). Custom orthotics may be able to properly redistribute weight across the feet, taking stress off the plantar fascia.
In addition to plantar fasciitis, custom orthotics might be recommended for those with:
- Other forms of heel pain
- Bunions, hammertoes, and other deformities
- Areas of the feet susceptible to developing sores
- Pain in the hips, knees, or back (if these problems are tied to foot structure)
It is worth noting that custom orthotics are not the only treatment for these conditions and may not be the best recommendation for each case. Different treatments are better for different situations, and we determine the best plans through an examination.
How Are My Orthotics Made?
In the past, orthotics were made using a plaster cast or rubber mold of the patient's foot. Today, our office uses Go 4-D custom-printed orthotics, a faster and more convenient option to create comfortable and durable orthotics that fit in everyday shoes.
First, our podiatrists use a digital scanner to create a 3D model of your feet. Next, we evaluate the scan and customize your orthotics to compensate for signs of uneven weight distribution, irregular foot function, and other biomechanical problems.
Finally, we use an HP Multi-Jet Fusion 3D printer to build lightweight and flexible orthotics based on your specific needs. If you need additional orthotics in the future, your digital file can be used to reproduce inserts for walking, running, or everyday support as often as you need them.
What About Over-the-Counter Orthotics?
You have likely seen pre-fabricated inserts available in stores. These can help some people with relatively minor problems but are unlikely to provide as much support or direct help as those made especially for you.
If we ever recommend pre-fabricated orthotics to a patient, we can recommend a brand and type that would best suit your needs and help provide the best fit possible.
However, custom orthotics will almost always be a better choice for patients due to how close they can fit patient needs and their much higher durability.
Will Custom Orthotics Cure My Problem?
While custom orthotics can place your foot structure into a more natural alignment, they are not able to cause permanent changes. In other words, custom orthotics only work as long as you wear them.
As time marches on, the shape of your feet and their needs may change. We recommend periodic checkups (usually once per year) to review your orthotics and adjust, refurbish, or replace them as necessary. However, surgery is the only permanent option to fix a structural deformity or abnormality.
Will Wearing Orthotics Make My Feet Weaker?
It is easy to assume that having support for your feet means they won't be "putting in enough effort" anymore. However, that's looking at things from the wrong perspective.
Without orthotics, your feet have to deal with too much pressure and force—more than they can handle. Orthotics are made to restore a balance that allows your muscles to function at normal, comfortable levels. Allowing your feet to work normally makes them stronger than constantly being plagued with pain and strain.
Have More Questions? Let Us Know
This isn't the whole book on custom orthotics, certainly. You may have questions about your specific circumstances or anything else that didn't get covered here. The team at Southern Oregon Foot & Ankle is happy to help you!
Whether orthotics are part of your ideal foot and ankle care plan or not, getting the help you need to address your problems is the best way to start finding relief! Call us today at (541) 776-3338 to schedule an appointment at our Medford offices.
If you prefer to send us questions via our online contact form instead, please do! We will respond to you during our regular office hours.