Do you ever see a beautifully arched foot and wish your flat little pancake feet could compare? If so, then you and I have something in common. And if you feel ankle and foot pain when you walk, run or play sports, then you and I may have something else in common - the need for orthotics.
Technically, "orthotics" is the term for a field of medicine responsible for the production of "orthoses," which are the devices designed to relieve pain by offering support and stability to various parts of our body. But the term "orthotics" has become commonly synonymous with foot orthoses, due to high demand for them.
- Why do I need orthotics? Generally, foot dysfunction develops out of an inability of our feet to correctly disburse the strain of body weight. If a certain part of our foot is growing disproportionately stressed, pain and foot problems are the result. Consider, for example, that your heel naturally settles a little bit side-to-side as you and apply weight on it. Our ankle and heel are structured to behave healthily with this little bit of movement, but they require a healthy arch to keep that movement at a healthy level. If your heel settles too much under your weight, the movement places an unhealthy amount of stress on your ankle and the side of your foot. This phenomenon of foot-flattening is called pronation, the polar opposite of supination (when our arches fail to flatten enough with each step). Thankfully, orthotics can provide the support needed to combat these and other conditions that can ultimately cause pain and possibly malformation if left untreated (such as plantar fasciitis, bunions, arthritis and heel spurs).
- Visit a podiatrist. After an examination of your feet and ankles, and after listening to the descriptions of your pain, the doctor will determine whether or not to prescribe orthotics to correct your problem.
- One size fits all? Unlike over-the-counter foot insoles you can buy at an athletic store, orthotics are custom-made for your specific foot and corrective needs; you can't just ask for a Size 8. No, the process is far more memorable than that! A Plaster of Paris cast is made of each foot. In the end, you have a mold of your arches for reference next time.
- Next time? Your orthotics don't last forever. Gradual fatigue of the material means that, over time, they will not provide the adequate support and correction. When you start to feel the familiar foot discomfort again, you should seek a new pair of orthotics. Replacing old orthotics is simply a matter of visiting your podiatrist to get a new pair ordered. If you've moved since your last orthotics were made, the plaster molds can guide your new orthotist in making your replacements. You'll have your new orthotics in no time.
- But they look weird... Many people (and quite often, children) don't want to wear orthotics because of the puzzled looks they might notice when shoe shopping, for example, or simply changing shoes after a sporting event. Some worry that their choice of shoes will be impaired by the use of orthotics. The latter concern is valid to some extent, because orthotics will elevate your foot within a shoe. However, orthotics are things of beauty - look how they improve your gait. Not only that, but many shoes contain removable insoles already, reducing the impact of adding orthotics. And besides, when faced with a choice between aesthetics and health, you should always choose health (out with the corset, in with the orthotics).
Our feet bear an enormous burden every day and throughout the year, yet we seldom stop to pay them the proper consideration. You may buy yourself a nice pair of slippers to keep your feet warm over the holidays (and no doubt they appreciate it), or even make a visit to the pedicurist to beautify your toes before a summer vacation. If you're ignoring foot and ankle pain, though, you are not only doing them a disservice, but you are potentially endangering the physical health of other parts of your body as well - from your foot all the way up to your back.