Your feet are your bodies foundation. They are complex structures consisting of 26 bones, held together by hundreds of ligaments, muscles and tendons. They are all arranged together to form several dynamic arches that function to support weight, absorb shock, and provide leverage while walking.
A small skeletal imbalance can trigger many different symptoms to appear. Signs of such imbalance can include painful feet, ankles, knees, hips and back, corns and calluses and even arthritis.
Skeletal imbalances are often corrected with biomechanical foot orthotics. Biomechanics deals with the science of human motion.
What Is An Orthotic?
Biomechanical foot orthotics are carefully constructed medical appliances which fit into the bottom of your shoes and control the motion of your feet and weight distribution as you walk. These devices are custom designed to alleviate the pain and discomfort you may suffer from foot disorders such as fallen arches, heel spurs, bunions, sport injuries, etc. They are also often used to specifically load pressure off of certain hot-spots, for example diabetic ulcers or painful corns/ calluses. Each orthotic prescription is tailored to meet the specific needs of each individual. There are different types of orthotics for athletes, diabetics, arthritics and so forth. Construction begins with making a specific anatomical model/ impression of your feet. These are then sent to a special laboratory where devices are constructed using a highly technical and complex process. Only in this way can the orthotic conform to and control the specific angles and contours of your skeletal structure throughout the different phases of gait (the walking cycle). Generally speaking, an orthotic is a custom device that controls the degree of pronation/ supination and rebalances forces of the foot when walking and running, but can also be used solely to redirect force/ pressure off of a particular area.
What Is Pronation And Supination?
In simple terms, pronation is the flattening out of the arch when a person's foot first strikes the ground. The foot is a major shock absorber for the body. A normal person's foot will pronate starting when the heel first hits the ground until the heel lifts off the ground. Supination is the opposite motion of pronation. It allows the foot to be a more stable, rigid structure for when we push off on our next step. A normal person's foot will supinate starting when the heel first lifts off the ground until the foot leaves the ground.
The truth is that we all pronate and supinate. This is normal. Problems can arise when we do too much of one motion and not enough of the other, or other imbalances cause improper load/ excess force on certain areas.
Orthotics control the foot’s range of motion, and the manner in which forces go through the foot and leg. Muscles that counteract the range of motion can work overtime when a person over pronates or over supinates. This excess muscle contraction leads to inefficiency and fatigue. More recent thinking suggests that a person will develop painful symptoms when tissues are overloaded/ stressed beyond their capacity to handle such force. A foot with the proper biomechanics is much more efficient, requiring less energy. With orthotics we aim to eliminate painful symptoms by rebalancing the load on tissues, but the more important goal is to restore foot function to as normal as possible, thus eliminating the cause of any symptoms.
The most common foot mechanics problems are:
plantar fasciitis (heel pain)
neuromas and metatarsalgia (pain in ball of foot)
Orthotics may also be recommended to those individuals requiring enhanced shock absorption (e.g. arthritics, atrophy of the fibrofatty padding), and athletes who desire enhanced performance. Patients with diabetes, heel spurs, sesamoiditis, metatarsalgia, gereralized foot pain, shin splints, pes cavus and pes planus, walking problems among other conditions may benefit from the use of foot orthotics.
Biomechanical orthotic devices are custom made devices that fit inside your shoes to control the way your foot functions and help them perform at their peak efficiency. Although they resemble arch supports, true biomechanical orthotics do not work on the principle of supporting the arch. Instead of supporting the arches, orthotics create normal function and redirect balance of the feet and legs when worn.
Orthotics are not arch supports!
Biomechanical orthotics are not arch supports. Arch supports are older technology appliances that do not attempt to achieve normal function of the feet. Arch supports, as well as many over the counter foot supports may relieve symptoms, but the cause of the problem usually remains, and often symptoms re-appear.
Why are Custom Orthotics Better Than Off- the-Shelf Arch Supports
Over the counter drug store arch supports often relieve minor foot pain but they do not correct the function of your feet. If all you need is additional cushioning or slight support, arch supports may be enough for you.
However if you are suffering with chronic foot pain that just won’t go away, you probably have a significant biomechanical problem and will likely require custom made foot orthotics to relieve your pain long term. Biomechanical orthotics work to eliminate the specific causes of your symptoms, so that your feet may operate more naturally and efficiently. This will lead to a reduction or total elimination of your symptoms. This is especially true if you are standing for long periods during the day, or are very active other sports.
Custom orthotics are like prescription eye glasses for your feet. Yes you can see better with “reading glasses" from the drug store, but the glasses made specifically for you by an optometrist or ophthalmologist with a thorough exam are much better in correcting your vision. Custom foot orthotics work the same way. You also will not become dependent on orthotics. They work while you are wearing them, and when not worn your joints will return the their inherited position. However, many people will not want to take them off because they feel so much better with them on!
Custom orthotics have been used successfully in the treatment of foot and ankle conditions for decades. They have evolved over time and research has gotten better. Today each individual prescription is high custom tailored to the patient, their feet, activities, specific foot problem and overall health. There is very good clinical evidence that foot orthotics work to correct the underlying cause as well as eliminate symptoms causes by many foot and ankle problems caused by unstable biomechanics.
Faulty biomechanics can lead to all sorts of foot and leg problems. Problems such as plantar fasciits, metatarsalgia and neuromas (pain in the ball of your foot), big toe joint pain, tendinitis and tendon dysfunction, flat foot, ankle instability, arch pain, tarsal tunnel pain, corns, callus, bunions can all be controlled with custom orthotics. Custom orthotics are also very helpful in reducing and eliminating symptoms caused by painful arthritis, such as osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and psoriatic arthritis. Diabetics are also often prescribed orthotics to balance weight distribution in the foot to help in prevention of long term diabetic foot complications.
Orthotics For Kids
Orthotics can help people of all ages - including children! Children who are walking may benefit from orthotics if compensating for a foot deformity (e.g. flat feet, intoeing/ outoeing, skew foot), or have symptoms of "growing pains" that are actually more than growing pains. Often after a busy day a child may complain of aching legs, knees, shins or ankles. This is often a side effect due to a musculoskeletal misalignment. Orthotics are used to correct, control or compensate for a bone deformity or soft tissue ailment. Orthotics place the foot in an optimal position, and can help encourage bony growth in the best position possible, and alleviate any symptoms that come alone with it.
A chiropodist may determine that a child needs biomechanical orthotic devices to improve foot and leg function. Just as prescriptive eye glasses come in different styles and correction, so do custom orthotics. These devices will fit into the child’s footwear and help the foot perform at its peak efficiency. By controlling foot function; accommodating deformities and other anomalies the foot will be given a chance to grow correctly, and can possibly eliminate the need for long-term orthotic use.
Why Try Orthotics?
Have you ever wanted to run better, walk better, run faster, or overall move better? Custom orthotics can help you achieve all of these goals. By aligning properly your foot and leg, you improve the performance of the entire kinetic chain. Muscles work properly, tendons do not over-pull and ligaments align. Soft tissues do not get overloaded, and hence the risk of injury is substantially reduced. This means you move better and feel better doing it, and often those little naggings aches and pains can disappear.
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