What are Orthotics?
Orthotics, or Orthoses, are specialised inserts that fit into the shoe and work by reducing the magnitude of abnormal forces acting on structures in the lower limb, thereby reducing pain and improving efficiency in balance, stability and movement. Where injury has occurred as a direct or indirect result of these excessive forces, orthoses can help to relieve painful symptoms by reducing loads through the injured tissue while it is healing and reduce the risk of the same injury occurring again.
Some of the conditions which orthoses can be useful in the treatment of are:
- General foot and leg pain
- Plantar Fasciitis
- Heel pain
- Arch pain
- Achilles tendinopathies
- Shin splints
- Runners knee
- General knee pain
Orthoses come in many different types, shapes sizes and even colours, and the choice can seem bewildering at first. Broadly speaking however, they can be divided into two categories:
Custom made orthoses
These are made from a plaster, bio-foam or laser scanned mould of the feet which is then sent to an orthotics lab for manufacture and are a specific to the individual, designed to closely match the contours of the foot. They are usually constructed from light, strong materials such as carbon fibre or polyprolene and are therefore unlikely to break or lose their shape. Because they are precision made by hand for an individual fit and therefore cannot be mass produced, they are relatively expensive. Whilst not necessary in all cases, they are generally longer lasting and therefore can be more cost effective in the long term. At Active Podiatry we laser scan the foot and send the scan directly to the lab, leading to a quicker turnaround and greater accuracy.
These come in pre-formed shapes and standard sizings which roughly match the contours of the feet. As they are not custom made they can be mass produced and this makes them relatively inexpensive. You can usually buy such devices over the counter at retail outlets such as sports shops and chemists. Although they can be modified to an extent, the general nature of their design means they may not be suitable for all foot types and conditions.
Somewhere in between!
In recent years, a third type of orthotic device has entered the market, based on a range of stock templates of different shapes and sizes which can then be modified in a lab or clinic to the patient's specification with additions and sports top covers, etc. The advantage of this system is that it produces a cost effective device with an element of customisation and a quick turnaround, enabling the orthotic to be quickly fitted.
There are many pros and cons to the various different types of orthoses available, and no single approach will work in every case. It is always wise to be wary of 'orthotic shops' with a walk in service and tantalising discounts where the answer is nearly always an orthotic !
At Active Podiatry clinics we are not tied to any particular lab or company and are able to give clear and impartial advice in guiding you through the options available. Orthotics are just one aspect of a proper treatment plan and at the end of the day our aim is to provide you with the information you need to make an informed choice.
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