The Whats, Whys and Hows of Orthotics


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We all know that wearing supportive athletic shoes is the best way to keep our feet happy. But especially for those working in professional environments where a certain level of dress is expected, that’s not always possible on an everyday basis. If you’re experiencing foot pain and want to provide your feet with some more support — without lacing up your trainers with every outfit — then orthotic inserts might be the best choice for you. Below are some common questions about orthotics, along with their answers.

  1. What Are Orthotics?

    Orthotics are pieces of molded plastic, foam, leather or similar materials that are inserted inside shoes. Some orthotics are for full feet, while others are only heel or toe pads. They are designed to keep the foot in a neutral position and protect it from impact-related trauma over time.

  2. Where Do You Get Them?

    There are, generally, two types of orthotics. The first are insoles that are sold at drugstores, running stores or big-box stores. The second are custom performance orthotics fitted by a local podiatrist after more extensive examination of the feet.

  3. What Are They Used For?

    Again, it’s important here to distinguish between non-prescription insoles and doctor-fitted orthotic inserts. The former are used generally to cushion the feet or provide a little arch support in shoes that are lacking in structure. But the latter are used to make up for architectural problems or muscular weaknesses in the feet. They’re generally recommended for people with long-term foot problems such as plantar fasciitis. People who have a tendency toward pronation, for example, may get custom orthotics from their podiatrist but also seek physical therapy to correct the placement problem as a longer-term solution.

  4. How Effective Are They?

    Doctors disagree on the effectiveness of orthotic inserts, though they have been shown to relieve pain for many patients. Concerns that inserts and insoles are actually harmful, however (by allowing the muscles in the feet to be “lazy”) have been largely dismissed, however; wearing orthotic inserts doesn’t harm feet any more than wearing well-fitted running shoes does.

  5. How Much Do They Cost?

    The cost of orthotic inserts ranges widely, given that some are bought off the shelf and others are custom fitted and molded. One thing to keep in mind is that insurance may cover prescription inserts fitted by a doctor, keeping costs under control.

What other questions do you have about orthotic inserts? Join the discussion in the comments.

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