Foot injuries are one of the most common for athletes. Foot injuries, even when healing, make it nigh impossible to complete any workout. The pain is excruciating, and there is always the possibility of worsening the injury. So how do you manage workouts and keep fit in the face of foot injuries?

The answer to this is by using orthotics. These pieces of equipment have become quite popular among athletes and have numerous benefits. Here, we will be looking at what orthotics are, their types, benefits and lots more.

foot and ankle support

What are Orthotics?

Orthotics, also known as orthotic insoles or orthoses, are custom shoe inserts. These inserts are placed inside the shoes and used to control and treat foot and ankle-related problems. They primarily function as a supporting aid when engaging in activities like walking, standing, and running and restore balance to the foot. Orthotics help you perform these activities comfortably and efficiently.

Foot and ankle-related pain occurs when the natural biochemical balance of the lower body is altered by over-pronation. Orthotics effectively treat these pains and related heel, knee, and lower back, caused by poor foot biomechanics. Unfortunately, poor foot biomechanics leads to over-pronation, affecting about 70% of the population, making it a major problem.

Orthotics help treat over-pronation, correct and realign the ankle and foot bones to their original position, balancing the natural foot function. In addition, they help treat other medical conditions caused by foot pain like plantar fasciitis, arthritis, diabetes, and bursitis. Orthotics are usually prescribed after a test has been conducted. 

foot arch type orthopedics

Conditions that require the use of Orthotics

Doctors prescribe orthotics to treat many medical conditions ranging from foot and ankle pain to other medical conditions caused by these pains. Orthotics are prescribed in the following conditions;

  • Arthritis: Orthotics help correct and treat foot discomfort caused by rheumatoid and osteoarthritis.
  • Back pain: Orthotics help reduce pain caused by poor positioning of the feet, roll inward arches, or poor cushioning.
  • Bunions: Orthotics helps to reduce pressure at the base of the metatarsal. If these bumps are not treated, they can cause foot deformities and discomfort.
  • Bursitis: Bursitis pain is caused by swellings in the heels and toes, and this causes discomfort. Orthotics help to reduce pain caused by bursitis.
  • Diabetes: One of the common symptoms of diabetes is loss of sensation in the foot, known as diabetic neuropathy. Loss of sensation in diabetic patients makes them prone to injuries. Orthotics, however, help cushion the feet and absorb more shock, thus, reducing the likelihood of diabetic foot ulcers.
  • Flat foot: Flat foot is a condition where the foot arch is lower than usual. This can cause foot, ankle, and back pain. Orthotics provide adequate support for flat feet, enhancing foot positioning and reducing associated pain.
  • Hammer-toes:  Hammer-toes are one of the side effects of bunions on the big toe, which causes deformities on the ball of the foot. Orthotics help reduce the hammer-toes pain and provide extra support to the feet.
  • Heel spurs: Orthotics helps to reduce inflammation and provide support to the foot when excess bone grows at the bottom of the heel.
  • High arches: If you have high arches, you will most likely develop other conditions like knee pain, shin splints and plantar fasciitis due to stressed muscles. Orthotics provide adequate support in such conditions, thus preventing your feet from rolling excessively inward or outward.
  • Injuries: Injuries on the ankles and feet caused during play, exercise or other traumatic events can be treated using orthotics to provide extra support during the healing process.
  • Plantar fasciitis: Orthotics helps to support the foot and heel, helping to retreat plantar fasciitis.
feet benefits of orthotics

Benefits of Orthotics

Orthotics offers many health benefits when used. They help restore the balance in your foot to its neutral state, correct foot abnormalities, reduce inflammation around the foot region, and reduce pain, among others.

1.   Correct foot abnormalities

Orthotics help to treat foot pain by correcting foot abnormalities. Underlying structural abnormalities such as pronation and supination cause most discomfort and pain in the foot. Orthotics support the feet, helping to treat the pain, reduce the discomfort and most importantly, correct the underlying cause of the pain.

2.   Relieves pressure

Custom orthotics help to reduce pressure on the foot. They help provide cushioning and support, hence helping to redistribute the pressure on your feet. Suppose you have a job that demands standing all day or conditions like arthritis or diabetic ulcers. In that case, orthotics will help reduce pressure in the feet, prevent pressure ulcers, and halt disease progression.

3.   Improves back, knee, and ankle health

The entire weight of the body rests on the feet. Thus if the feet are misaligned or in discomfort, it radiates to other body parts, especially the lower back, knees and other major joints. By relieving the pain and discomfort in the feet, orthotics create a similar effect in other body parts.

4.   Improves athletic performance and overall health

Foot injuries are very common among athletes due to overuse. These injuries cause pain and discomfort and adversely affect athletic performance. Orthotics help treat these injuries and other foot abnormalities affecting athletic performance, enhancing athletes’ ability to run, exercise, pitch from the mound, or engage in other high-impact training.

Types of Orthotics

There are generally three categories of orthotics. Each category has distinct functions and uses and may have several types and designs under them. Some orthotics work to optimize foot function; some are primarily used for protection, and others provide functional control and protection. We have:

1.   Rigid Orthotics

Rigid orthotics are designed to help you control movements in your foot joints. Rigid orthotics are durable, keep to their shape and are almost unbreakable. Rigid orthotics are made of firm materials like carbon fiber or plastic and are difficult to alter based on the patient’s shoe size.

2.   Semirigid Orthotics

Semirigid orthotics are designed to balance the foot while engaging in activities like walking, running, etc. Semi-rigid orthotics support the muscles, joints, and tendons. They consist of layers of soft materials which make up their rigid structure.

3.   Soft Orthotics

Soft orthotics help increase balance, absorb shock and reduce pressure from sore spots. They are designed based on the user’s foot walking action or fashioned over a plaster impression of the foot. These orthotics are used to treat diabetic foot problems, deformed feet and arthritic. They are constructed to be compressible and soft to provide cushioning.

Orthotics for Children

There are orthotics for children. These types of orthotic devices help in treating foot deformities in children. There are different orthotics for children, depending on how the child’s foot develops and the shape it takes. Orthotics for children needs to be replaced as the child’s foot expands and develops.

Other Types of Orthotics

Asides from the above types of orthotics, there are other types. These other types are used for multidirectional or edge-control sports, like ice skating, inline skating or skiing. Some others are used to treat back problems caused by foot imbalance, such as the foot orthotic.

These other orthotics are designed for complex foot and ankle deformities to improve function and relieve pain. They help stabilize the foot and ankle and can also fit into a standard shoe.

Inserts vs. Orthotics

Inserts and orthotics are similar in appearance but are different in their functions. Orthotics are prescribed medical devices designed to help manage medical foot conditions and associated pain.   Shoe orthotics are designed to fit inside shoes and correct the biomechanics problem and relieve any pain associated with it.

Inserts are products placed inside shoes to help improve your shoe fit and provide support and extra cushioning. They can be bought without a prescription at any store. They are made of soft materials like gel, plastic or foam. They also help reduce pressure or pain around your ankles, toes, or even your entire foot but do not provide the full range of benefits offered by orthotics.

 

working out with orthotics

Working out with orthotics

Working out with orthotics is beneficial and positively influences the outcome of the workouts. Orthotics help to improve workout goals, foot health and shape. In addition, they provide extra support and added comfort during workouts, helping to absorb shock and impacts from hard surfaces.

Pain in the foot or ankle can be a roadblock to achieving your workout goals. Using orthotics helps to reduce these pains for better workout performance. In addition, working out with orthotics helps keep your ankles stable by providing them with strength and protecting them against sprain and another ankle injury.

How to use orthotics for workouts

When using orthotics for workouts, the goal is to start small, then increase use until you are comfortable wearing them. For example, you can wear orthotics for an hour on the first day, two hours on the second day, three hours on the third day, etc., until you can wear them throughout your workouts.

If your first attempt at using orthotics causes you pain, remove them. On the second day, do not attempt to increase the wearing time. Then continue sequentially, hitting times that you are comfortable with each day.

Other tips to note with using orthotics include;

  • Wear stockings or socks to reduce skin irritation.
  • Buy shoes that fit your orthotics.
  • You can dust your shoes with baby powder once in a while to reduce your orthotics squeaking in your shoes.
  • To care for your orthotics, you should wipe them off with lukewarm water and allow them to dry before re-using.

Disadvantages of orthotics

Using low-quality orthotics can cause serious side effects. These include;

  • Increased soreness
  • Altered mechanics
  • Compensatory injuries

Doctors prescribe orthotics for various conditions. When buying orthotics over-the-counter, it is important that you get orthotics with high-quality materials and a design that serves its purpose.

Take Away

Orthotics are medical devices that fit inside shoes to help provide extra cushioning and support and relieve foot and ankle pain. Orthotics are beneficial in enhancing workout performance. However, if you get low-quality orthotics, they may worsen the conditions for which you initially got them.

Ensure to speak with your doctor before getting orthotics and only use them as prescribed.

References

What are orthotics?- footminders

Orthotics & bracing- advanced foot and ankles

Orthotics- are they the answer to your foot, leg or back pain?