Orthotics are shoe inserts that are intended to correct an abnormal, or irregular, walking pattern. Orthotics are “arch supports.” They perform functions that make standing, walking, and running more comfortable and efficient, by altering slightly the angles at which the foot strikes a walking or running surface.
Doctors of podiatric medicine prescribe orthotics as a conservative approach to many foot problems or as a method of control after certain types of foot surgery; their use is a highly successful, practical treatment form.
Orthotics take various forms and are constructed of various materials. All are concerned with improving foot function and minimizing stress forces that could ultimately cause foot deformity and pain.
Foot orthotics fall into three broad categories: those that primarily attempt to change foot function, those that are primarily protective in nature, and those that combine functional control and protection.
The so-called rigid orthotic device, designed to control function, may be made of a firm material such as plastic or carbon fiber, and is used primarily for walking or dress shoes. Rigid orthotics are chiefly designed to control motion in two major foot joints, which lie directly below the ankle joint. These devices are long lasting, do not change shape, and are usually difficult to break.
Strains, aches, and pains in the legs, thighs, and lower back may be due to abnormal function of the foot, or a slight difference in the length of the legs. In such cases, orthotics may improve or eliminate these symptoms, which may seem only remotely connected to foot function.
Soft-orthotic devices help to absorb shock, increase balance, and take pressure off uncomfortable or sore spots. They are usually constructed of soft, compressible materials.
The advantage of any soft orthotic device is that it may be easily adjusted to changing weight-bearing forces. The disadvantage is that it must be periodically replaced or refurbished. It is particularly effective for arthritic and grossly deformed feet where there is a loss of protective fatty tissue on the side of the foot.
The third type of orthotic device (semi-rigid) provides for dynamic balance of the foot while walking or participating in sports. This orthotic is not a crutch, but an aid to the athlete. This functional dynamic orthotic helps guide the foot through proper functions, allowing the muscles and tendons to perform more efficiently.