Here at Gait Happens we believe there is a time and a place for most all interventions. This point holds true for the question, ‘Should I prescribe Foot Orthotics?’
What Are Foot Orthoses?
What are they exactly and how do they work? Well, to be honest, the researchers are still shaking their heads. We know they can be beneficial in SOME cases, but the WHY is still to be determined. When we describe what an orthotic is to a patient, we like to use the term LOAD modifier.
A foot orthotic disperses load away from certain parts of the foot and moves that load towards other parts of the foot. Think about the bumpers on a bowling alley, for kids :). The kid rolls the ball, it’s about to go in the gutter, but the bumper bounces it out and keeps it in play. That’s how we like to describe what happens with one of these devices, and it’s important to remember when asking yourself, ‘Should I prescribe foot orthotics?’
You have abnormal load occurring, and the orthotic keeps the foot in play. Sounds great right?
The Downside to Foot Orthoses
Well here’s the not so good part. Think of the muscles of our foot as the gutters. If that ball (foot) never sees that gutter because that bumper (orthotic) is there, and those muscles never see any action, what do you think happens to them? We’ll tell you.
If you don’t use it, you will lose it.
Our foot was beautifully designed with layers of muscles, and many joint articulations in order to handle immense amounts of load when we walk and run. When our feet become weak, or we have Habitually been in poor footwear, our feet can no longer handle these loads. As a result, pain ensues, and the first line of intervention from so many professionals is, “You better get an orthotic!”
Hold your horses there Charlie, didn’t you just say our foot was designed to handle massive amounts of load?
Yea, we sure did.
So, Should I Prescribe Foot Orthotics?
So here lies the conundrum.
We once asked ourselves that question (should I prescribe foot orthotics). And here is our response.
Load modifiers aka foot orthoses should be a temporary therapy. They should be utilized on a need basis only. Research has shown that foot orthoses can be very helpful for patients with heel pain for example, BUT only for a short period of time, not 30 years. The goal is to modify the load, give the tissues a break, get the pain to settle a bit AND work on restoring function so the orthotic is no longer needed.
Should I Prescribe Foot Orthotics in Certain Cases?
Now, there are cases where these load modifiers may need to be utilized for longer periods of time. Luckily, these are very few cases. If someone has a trauma, a structural variant, disfigured feet from years of weakness where no matter how much we strengthen that foot, not much is going to change. Then yes, we may need a permanent foot orthotic. Even still, we at Gait Happens will be prescribing exercises and working towards improving function. You can learn more about how we prescribe and assess in our Professional Trainings here.
So in conclusion, if you’re asking yourself, ‘Should I prescribe foot orthotics?’, the answer is there is a time and a place for foot orthotic prescriptions. The goal should be to have an exit strategy. Utilize them as needed and only as necessary. Work on foot strength and mobility and build a foundation that will carry your patients and clients into their later years pain free and living a quality of life they can enjoy. Check out our 12-week online program for optimal foot strength and mobility here.
- What are foot orthotics and how do they work?
Foot orthotics are load modifiers worn inside shoes to correct foot problems. They disperse load away from certain parts of the foot and move it towards other parts, working like a bumper on a bowling alley to keep the foot in play.
- Are foot orthotics always necessary for foot problems?
Foot orthotics should only be prescribed when they are the most appropriate treatment for a patient’s condition, as they have benefits and drawbacks. It is important to consider other treatment options before prescribing them, such as physical therapy or stretching exercises. Learn more about when to prescribe orthotics in our professional courses here.
- What are the downsides of using foot orthotics?
Foot orthotics can be expensive, may cause discomfort, and weaken the muscles of the foot if used for too long. They rob the foot of its ability to strengthen and become more mobile.
- When should I prescribe foot orthotics?
Foot orthotics should be prescribed when they are the most appropriate treatment for a patient’s condition. They may be recommended for patients with conditions such as plantar fasciitis, flat feet, and overpronation.
- Can off-the-shelf foot orthotics be as effective as custom-made ones?
Custom-made foot orthotics are designed to fit a patient’s foot precisely, which can improve their effectiveness. However, off-the-shelf options can be effective for some patients and are often more affordable.
- How long should foot orthotics be worn?
Foot orthotics should be worn for a short period of time to modify the load, get the pain to settle, and work on restoring function. They should be utilized on a need basis only. In rare cases, they may need to be utilized for longer periods of time.