Are Orthotics Right For Me?

Well, the simple answer is "maybe." First lets work on some definitions. The insole that comes in your running shoe is a "sock liner." No matter what the shoe salesman says, it offers minimal support. The support and control of a running shoe comes from within the shoe itself. Anything you buy off the shelf at a pharmacy, shoe store, or sporting goods store is an "insole." It does provide generic arch support. It is often a first step in solving foot issues.

That brings us to an orthotic, which is a custom insole made from a mold of your foot. That mold will be when your podiatrist wraps plaster around the foot, has you step in foam, or stand or walk on a computer force plate. There are differences as to what's the best method but that's for another post. An orthotic is only right for the person for whom it is made. It's important to only get a custom orthotic from a doctor, who will provide an appropriate examination. Shoe stores that have "custom" orthotics are not using proper methods to design these orthotics and even may be using a computer to choose a generic insole and charging 10x more than they should for it. I've even found shoe stores charging more for a generic insole than I do for a custom orthotic!

In the evaluation for a custom orthotic, I take measurements of your foot, ankle, knee, and hips during a biomechanical exam. I also take x-rays when you are standing to examine the bone structure in detail. Lastly I watch you walk barefoot so I can get a true view of your mechanics. Based on the exam, I formulate a prescription to make the orthotics correct your mechanics to make you walk as efficiently as possible.

A custom orthotic is always right if you have any sort of foot deformity, such as bunions or hammertoes. A properly made orthotic will help to eliminate the forces that caused these deformities and stop them getting worse. This could help you to avoid surgery down the road. Serious athletes at any level should consider a custom orthotic if they have any pain during the activity. Taking a chance with a generic insole may make your condition worse.

Of course, there is a time and place to try an off-the-shelf insole. For mild foot pain, shin splints, or pain in the front of your ankle, try getting an insole from a specialty running store, which will provide some good support. An insole of this type should cost about $30-$40. If it's more than that, just say no!!

For more information, visit
Dr. Andrew Schneider
Dr. Andrew Schneider is a podiatrist and foot surgeon at Tanglewood Foot Specialists in Houston, TX.
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