Orthotics

Helping you walk better

Orthotics are an integral foot care product designed to treat or correct foot disorders, such as fallen arches or other structural problems, and can also play a role in diabetic foot care.

Walking is a coordinated and complex motion. If there is a structural problem in the foot, it may crumple under the body's weight. This is more important for runners since they exert more force on their feet, which may cause injuries such as sprained ankles or fractures. Foot care orthotics are used to adjust bodily imperfections that otherwise hinder people from reaching their maximum physical potential. Your physician can prescribe the proper amount of correction after a complete examination.

Treatment Orthotics

Treatment orthotics are helpful to correct foot disorders, such as an excessive flattening of the arch (pronation) or an arch that is too high (supination). They are also used to reduce pain caused by excessive pressure on the metatarsal heads (the ends of the metatarsal bones that connect to the toes). They are also designed to treat pain and pressure on the collapsed tarsal bones, sesamoid bones, inflamed toes and sores. Other types of arch supports are prescribed to treat problems of the plantar arch.

Preventive Orthotics

These are special devices designed to correct foot deformities and gait problems in young children. Preventive orthotics can be used for children of age two years and older. In children, the orthotics used include splints, night bars and gait plates. These are used to hold the child's foot at a proper angle, thus correcting problems such as excessive toe-in or toe-out walking. Typically, the orthotics need to be replaced as the child's foot develops and changes shape.

According to the American Podiatric Medical Association, there are three types of orthotics:

  1. Rigid orthotic devices. These are designed so that little or no adjustment in shoe size is required. An example of this is ankle-foot orthosis (AFO), used to treat foot drop (an inability to raise the foot at the ankle).
  2. Soft orthotics. These orthotics are designed for improving balance by absorbing shock, and are made of a compressible material. They may extend from the heel to the toes, and an adjustment of the shoes may be needed. You may need to replace soft orthotics periodically.
  3. Semi-rigid orthotics. These are usually made of a soft material and reinforced with layers of more rigid material. They provide balance while walking, running or participating in athletic activities.

Simple orthotic devices, such as insoles or cushioned heel cups are available in drug stores or other retail stores. However, you could design custom orthotics to meet your individual needs. These custom orthotics are built from molds of the foot called casts. Any misalignment in the foot is found on the impressions left in the cast.

Technicians in an orthotic laboratory can custom-mold an orthotic device that incorporates the necessary adjustments, using the physician's recommendations. The finished orthotic device is then placed in the patient's shoe, providing the patient with stability, support and proper alignment of the ankles and lower body. Sometimes, the orthotic piece may have padding to meet the patient's needs.

Foot care orthotics may be more important for older people, since the aging process affects the feet and ankles. The muscles, ligaments and tendons may become weak and the bones will lose calcium resulting in reduced strength. Custom-made orthotics can provide support to the bones of the feet. The special materials used in orthotics can help eliminate pain.

If you suffer from foot pain or difficulty walking, it may be time to make orthotics a part of your foot care regime.

By Ernie Jones