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What are Shoe Orthotics?

By Carol Francois
Updated May 16, 2024
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Shoe orthotics are molded plastic pieces that are installed inside your shoes to provide additional support and correct your walking pattern. Poorly fitting shoes or an irregular gait can cause ankle, knee, hip, and back pain. The role of shoe orthotics is to provide additional support inside the shoe to redistribute the weight into a healthier pattern.

A podiatrist prescribes all shoe orthotics. The type of orthotic required depends on the problem, and level of discomfort. All orthotics are custom made, based on a plaster cast mold of the patient’s foot, which is made by the podiatrist.

Most shoe orthotics are made from a combination of molded plastic, foam, silicon, and rubber. As an orthotic is designed to correct flaws in the foot positioning, a new orthotic is often required after one to two years. The new orthotic will support the foot in a slightly different position, ensuring that the muscles continue to strengthen and develop.

There are standard shoe inserts available without a prescription at the drug store. These products are best for temporary foot pain caused by poorly fitting or cheap shoes. It is important to remember that all of your weight is carried by your foot. Treat it well and you will have your mobility and freedom as you age.

There are three main categories of shoe orthotics: corrective, preventive, and a combination of the two. A corrective orthotic is usually quite rigid, designed to shift the weight and pressure points within the foot. It is not uncommon to find the orthotic uncomfortable to wear at first. It will become more comfortable as your foot muscles adjust.

Preventive orthotics are usually prescribed for children. The purpose is to force the foot to form correctly or to use specific muscles. This process requires multiple visits and adjustments from the podiatrist, as the foot muscles change and adjust over time.

The combination models are prescribed to athletes, working people and seniors. By combining corrective and preventive support, the orthotic shapes the foot position, changing the weight distribution, gait, and position of the lower back. These changes reduce pain and muscle strain caused by an unhealthy posture.

Once you have purchased shoe orthotics, you must make sure that all footwear can accommodate the additional space requirements. This may mean shoes and boots that fit before are no longer suitable. Many people find they must increase their shoe size one full size to accommodate the space required by the orthotic.

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