Orthotics are a custom made insert to help moderate the structure and function of your foot. Whether they are necessary or not is something we will get into in a minute.
First off, all orthotics are not created equal. They come in many different shapes and sizes, and can be made from different materials. In some cases such as for diabetic patients, orthotics should be made with soft cushioning, and in other situations they may be as hard as a rock.
The big underlying difference in orthotic characteristics, seems to be what type of health professional dispensed them. These include Chiropodists, Podiatrists, Chiropractors and more.
Another key variable in their differences is what is going on with your foot/ankle in the first place. There are many different accommodations that can be built into your orthotic depending on the condition. Things like plantar fasciitis, heel spurs and flat feet are some of the more common conditions that may be helped with orthotics.
But some research shows that orthotics may also help with knee conditions and mechanical low back pain.
This is because your foot is the foundation to the rest of your body. It is the first part of the body in contact with the ground. If the foundation is out of position it could potentially have an effect further up your body in places like your knee, hip or low back.
When patients who have never had orthotics ask to get them, depending on their condition and level of commitment I may recommend exercises, stretches and time barefoot to see if that helps first.
These are usually in situations where their complaint is functional in nature and re-training may be all they need. However, if their complaint is structural, I will be more inclined to recommend trying them.
Now whether you need hard orthotics or more forgiving orthotics is another concern. While there is a need for very hard orthotics in certain scenarios I’m usually in favour of orthotics that are more forgiving in nature.
I lean this way because just having an insert that contacts your foot a certain way will provide your brain with more neurofeedback and could re-establish better gait patterns.
At the end of the day there is no right or wrong. Each health practitioner will have their own opinion, and you should have your own too.
If you have used orthotics in the past and they have worked well make sure your health care provider sees them so they can make a new pair that are similar in nature.
The last take away, and what I think is most important is that your health provider who dispenses your orthotics should look at you as a person and not just as a foot or ankle.
If your foot issue is corrected with orthotics this could cause changes further up your body, such as hip, ankle, knee or low back pain.
Sure the orthotics helped the foot issue but if it leads to a myriad of other problems then what’s the point.
Unfortunately I can’t give you a black and white answer as to whether orthotics are necessary or not. Obviously in certain situations they are, but I also think in a lot of situations they are over prescribed.
The one thing you should always look for is an orthotic dispenser who has your best interest in mind rather than their bottom line.