Your friends swear by their orthotics. The guy at work says he wouldn’t be able to manage all day on his feet without them. Your aunt Susan got some – but said they didn’t work for her, and Dr. Google says that they may not be effective, either. So, what’s going on? How can people’s experiences be so different – and what about the research?
Today, we’re debunking orthotic myths and setting the record straight on when – and if – orthotics work – and if they could work for you.
The first key: Defining what is an orthotic, and what’s not
You know how when we talk about chocolate, the spectrum covers both premium swiss chocolates made of the most delicious and genuine ingredients and the discounted stuff that tastes a little like plastic? Orthotics have a spectrum too.
Many people refer to the gel footbeds you get from the pharmacy, or the cushioning insoles you get from the supermarket as ‘orthotics’ – when they are not.
Orthotics are highly specialised medical devices that are prescribed and created by an experienced, qualified medical professional only after a comprehensive assessment of your feet and legs, clinical testing, and a diagnosis has been made – you get the picture.
True orthotics do not employ a one-size-fits-all or every-foot-is-the-same mentality. They are made from a model or cast of your feet, appreciating the unique attributes that make them work the way they do – and which help create your unique set of problems or circumstances. Every foot is different, and it should be treated that way to provide effective care.
Who you get your orthotics from matters
Just like how you go to an optometrist for your custom glasses because eyes and vision is their speciality, custom foot orthotics should be prescribed by your podiatrist as their sole focus is your feet, legs and the complex biomechanics between the two. In all honesty, it goes beyond that, though.
Podiatry is a field made up of many subspecialties – foot and nail care, diabetes, ingrown toenail surgeries, sports medicine – you name it. This means that when it comes to pain and injury rehab using custom foot orthotics, naturally, some practitioners are more experienced with orthotics than others.
There are so many factors to consider when prescribing a pair of orthotics – and your podiatrist has to make all these decisions themselves. How thick should the orthotic base be? What about the top cover? And what material should the cover be? Should there be an extra liner? Do you need extra stability via a wedge in your forefoot? What are the best modifications for your specific shoes? And your job? And the sports you do? And your weight? How will adding feature x to your orthotic affect your ankles? And your knees? … We could go on, but you get it. The success of your orthotic is directly correlated to the prescription made by your podiatrist, their consideration of all of the factors, and simply put, their experience and confidence in the area.
Now, some clinics excel at orthotics. Some have a greater focus on skin and nail care. Both are great podiatrists. But, there’s definitely one that I’d trust more with my orthotics – so this is an important question that you should be asking your podiatrist at your appointment. Here at Cartwright Podiatry, orthotics and sports medicine makes up a large part of what we do. We focus on it, we invest in it, we upskill in it – because we understand the impact that effective recovery can have on your wellbeing and lives.
That’s why we have our own orthotics mill
Earlier this year, we invested heavily into getting our own orthotics mill (which creates custom orthotics) instead of having our prescribed orthotics manufactured elsewhere. Why?
Imagine you’re ordering something online – like one of those photo books. Sure, you upload all your own photos and can greatly customise it, but there are limitations, like the layout on the pages and the materials your book can be made from. Your ability to customise is limited, your selections are reduced to what they have available, and though the end product is good, you don’t have that full control that you’d like for those special books.
Now that we have our own mill, we can make your orthotics exactly as our podiatrists want them, without limitations. If we have a new or different idea about how to modify an orthotic to best help your feet, we can do it. We believe that by combining our extensive knowledge in the field of orthotics and foot biomechanics and our own mill, we can truly provide superior orthotics to our community.
Orthotic treatment also requires you to play a part
Next, orthotics are often not a ‘set-and-forget’ kind of deal. They can help greatly by offloading painful joints and muscles, keeping your foot supported and changing the way your foot functions – but there are often other factors at play here. This is why effective orthotic therapy often needs you to:
- Work on the strength and flexibility of your muscles and tendons, as prescribed by your podiatrist
- Adjust poor footwear so that they can support your feet and maximise the effects of your orthotics. Often, this means temporarily limiting the wearing of high heels, flat sandals and other tight or narrow shoes
- Receive other therapies to help repair the damage, if you have tendon or joint damage. A good example of this is shockwave therapy for heel pain – while your orthotics will work to offload and support the plantar fascia that is often responsible for heel pain, shockwave treatment will help to repair the fascia itself
While some situations do warrant an orthotic alone – more often it is much more complicated and multifaceted, and we heed caution to anyone that advises you otherwise.
Back to Aunt Susan – why didn’t her orthotics help her?
Now that we’ve covered our bases, it’s really quite simple. Did she have truly custom orthotics, or did she pop an insole she ordered online into her shoe and call it an orthotic? Did she have an assessment with a podiatrist that specialises in orthotics and foot biomechanics? Did she do her part of the treatment? Did she keep wearing her heels on the weekend and then complain that her pain kept returning?
Truly, there is so much to it, and we hope we’ve helped shed a light on why it’s impossible to make a judgement on why someone’s orthotics did work or didn’t work without knowing much more of the story.
Could orthotics help you?
No podiatrist can answer that without conducting a comprehensive assessment on your feet and legs, making a diagnosis, and understanding what has caused your problem (if they automatically say yes, then run). Orthotics can’t solve every problem, and they aren’t for everyone, but we definitely have great success with orthotics for specific problems and pains, ranging from heel pain to knee osteoarthritis to growing pains in kids.
If you’re wanting a solution for your pain or problem, our team at Cartwright podiatry in Tahmoor would love to help. Whether that’s with orthotics or another treatment, our experienced podiatrists will discuss all your options with you and what you can expect.
Book your appointment with us by calling (02) 8405 6850 or book online here.