Blog - Monday 12th October 2020

Orthotics: What you need to know

Carl Bell

Physiotherapy Manager

Knee pain, back pain, heel pain, and shin splints can all be caused by one area – your feet.

Caused by an imbalance in the foot, these more serious ailments and injuries can be easily dealt with and in some cases, prevented through the use of orthotics.

Below, we take a look at orthotics, dispel some of the myths, and help you understand the benefits they offer.

What are orthotics?

Orthotics are devices inserted into shoes to provide additional support to your feet.

They alter the way pressure is distributed when walking, standing, or running by changing the way your foot sits within your shoe. This then changes the way pressure or impact is transferred from your foot through your body.

Frequently used to treat lower limb injuries, particularly in runners, there’s a common misconception that orthotics are for life, however, this isn’t always true.

While some people may need them for life, others may only need them for a short number of weeks. This is sometimes the case when helping to treat an injury.

Orthotics are custom-made shoe or heel inserts for your feet. They will often be prescribed by your doctor or physiotherapist. However, this only tends to be done after the use of off-the-shelf shoe modifiers and other treatments, such as at-home exercises, have been unsuccessful.

What are orthotics used for?

In the same way that your eyes are used for various tasks, which can result in the need for glasses or contact lenses, the same can apply to your feet and orthotics.

Different types of activities will need different types of orthotics, as will different treatments.

Therefore, when it comes to orthotics, getting the treatment correct is key, and, with everyone being different, the treatment goal needs to be defined.

Are they being used for:

  • Pain relief?
  • Improving running time and distance?
  • Correcting foot deformities?
  • Helping the foot or ankle to function better?
  • Reducing the risk of further injuries?
  • Something else?

When it comes to orthotic prescription, doctors and physiotherapists can prescribe them for everything from back and leg pain to diabetes, bunions, and back problems. When it comes to the world of fitness and exercise, orthotics can help with:

  • Foot and ankle injuries – following an injury, the ankle or heel may require additional support during the healing process.
  • Heel spurs – this is where excess bone grows on the back or bottom of the heel, and orthotics can help to reduce inflammation and support the foot.
  • High arches – muscles in the feet can become stressed when a person has very high arches. In turn, this can result in knee pain, shin splints, and plantar fasciitis. Orthotics can help to relieve the pain by stopping your feet from excessively rolling outward.
  • Creating a flat foot posture If your foot has a rapid ‘pronation moment’ (collapse under load) that can put a lot of stress on your plantar fascia very quickly. Orthotics slow or stop this process to make the loading more gradual and manageable, reducing the risk of injury.
  • Plantar Fasciitis – a common cause of heel pain, orthotics can support both your heel and foot.
  • Back pain – the positioning of your feet or lack of cushioning can work to create back pain, while orthotics can lessen this pain for you.

Overall, orthotics can be used to prevent the need for more invasive treatments, such as surgery.

They can also be used in combination with other treatments, such as exercise. In some cases, they’re not needed at all, even if you are experiencing any of the above ailments.

Orthotics aren’t always right

While orthotics work to change the way your foot sits in the bottom of your shoes, they aren’t always required. As mentioned earlier, your doctor or physiotherapist won’t prescribe an orthotic unless all other avenues have been exhausted.

Strengthening exercises are often tried beforehand, and can still be helpful when coupled with an orthotic if they weren’t successful in the first instance.

This is because strengthening can assist with load management, which is often what causes injuries in the case of running. Overall, the exercise, alongside the orthotic, if needed, can help to increase how much load you can tolerate after treatment to prevent injuries.

Once the injury has been treated, you can return to using regular shoes, which can also have a huge effect when it comes to injuries.

When running, your shoes can determine whether your run is enjoyable or not, but, with so many pairs to choose from, where should you start?

First, you need to consider several elements, such as:

  • What surface are you running on?
  • How far are you running?
  • How fast do you run?
  • The types of shoes available (lightweight, cushioned, motion control, the list is quite long)
  • Have you had your gait analysed?

Having the right pair of shoes when running, and exercising in general, can have a huge impact when it comes to injury, and the final point about your gait is particularly important.

Your gait and orthotics

If you’re wondering what your gait is, it means ‘the way a person walks’.

If your gait is abnormal then the way you walk and run won’t function in the usual way – which could lead to the issues mentioned previously, and the need for an orthotic.

When it comes to prescribing orthotics, one way this has been done is through the use of a pressure mat. This would require you to walk over the mat with your bare feet while the mat records and plots pressure data.

However, this can be ineffective when working out whether you need an orthotic or not.

This is due to the mat providing a two-dimensional image when the foot is a 3D object, meaning the mat can’t determine your arc height.

Secondly, barefoot data can’t be wholly relatable as your foot could function better when in a shoe, meaning you could be prescribed an orthotic when, in fact, you don’t need one.

Momentum use a state-of-the-art pressure pad, to ensure we get the best picture when it comes to your foot, to determine whether or not you may need an orthotic.

MOMENTUM RS Footscan®

Identifying imbalances in the foot to prevent injury, at Momentum we use the RS Footscan®.

Optimising 16,000 sensors, the pad identifies where your foot touches the floor when you walk and run due to determine where the most pressure is applied, and, in turn, identify the cause of your pain or injury.

Unlike other footpads, at Momentum you’ll be analysed while using a 39m indoor track. This provides a more realistic portrayal of your running rhythm and natural gait, providing more accurate data to identify whether you require an orthotic or not.

Working with orthotic specialists Phits ™, who create custom orthotics for professional athletes to build the world’s first 3D orthotics, these can be a valuable tool when it comes to running and injury recovery.

If you’ve found it painful to run, then an orthotic could change your experience for the better.

To find out more, get in touch and book your foot scan.