Orthopedic footwear, commonly called orthotics, are specialized foot apparel or inserts designed to position the foot in a proper position in order to improve the stability of the foot and ankle. Proper alignment of the foot and ankle are essential to the body’s ability to maintain balance, both when stationary and mobile. When problems with alignment arise, not only can balance be compromised, but pain can affect other parts of the body and limit mobility.
When the foot and ankle are in the correct position, the body maintains the ability to move fluidly. That alignment can be compromised by any abnormalities in the foot such as bunions, heel spurs or arthritis, which changes the structure of the foot. For example, unusually high arches or flat foot — in which the foot has no arch — can potentially cause pain, balance and mobility difficulties.
Problems with the ankles, such as chronic spraining, can cause a change in the foot’s natural position, triggering it to turn inward or outward with walking. This can result in mobility dysfunction. The use of orthopedic footwear can assist in restoring natural alignment. Orthotics also aid in providing stability to the ankle and foot, allowing the body to resume normal pain-free movement.
Orthopedic footwear can be as simple as an over-the-counter shoe insert to relieve pressure points and realign the foot. This type of orthotic comes in a variety of shapes and sizes, ranging from circular cut outs or cushions to relieve pressure points caused by abnormal joint distention to arch supports that help maintain the natural curvature of the bottom of the foot. Shoe inserts made of gel can help absorb the shock created as the foot hits the ground, allowing for pain relief.
Custom orthopedic footwear — which are made when a mold of the foot is taken, so that the orthotic can be fit to an individual’s specific needs — can alleviate the pain and dysfunction associated with foot abnormalities and ankle instability. These individualized orthotics can range from a shoe insert to a full modified, customized shoe. In severe cases of deviations of the foot or ankle, custom orthopedic footwear can be developed to mold the foot into proper position. When the ankle is involved, these shoes may also have metal uprights which run up to just below the knee on one or both sides of the ankle and leg to provide stability of the lower leg. This allows for more normal positioning with extra stability while maintaining mobility.