What are shoe inserts and custom orthotics?
Shoe inserts and orthotics are the same thing, aren’t they? In fact, they aren’t. Although shoe inserts and orthotics provide similar functions, there are some key differences, and depending on your foot and podiatric needs, the differences can be quite important.
Shoe inserts, no matter what the package states, are any type of over-the-counter device designed to be worn inside the shoe to provide support to the foot. Many of these non-prescription inserts are labeled as “orthotics,” but they are not. The term “orthotic” is reserved for prescription, custom devices made by your podiatry clinic for your specific foot needs. This is also true for shoe inserts that claim to be custom-made for your feet but that are not prescription and are not made to specifications as directed by your podiatrist. In general, over-the-counter shoe inserts fall into four categories in which each has a specific function:
Foot cushions — Foot cushions are available in a variety of shapes, sizes, and styles. They provide extra cushioning between your foot and the shoe, and prevent the shoe from rubbing against the foot.
Heel liners — Heel pads, heel cups, and heel liners all the same thing. These devices fit around the heel of the foot and provide cushioning to prevent heel pain. Heel liners are particularly useful as the body ages and the natural fat pads on the bottom of the heels begin to thin.
Insoles — Insoles, whether made of gel, foam, or plastic, slip inside the shoe to provide extra cushioning. Insoles are available in different thicknesses and styles, and while they provide cushioning, they typically do not offer arch support.
Arch supports — Arch supports, like insoles, slip inside the shoes, but instead of providing cushioning, they support the natural arch of the foot. Arch supports come in a variety of arch heights and may or may not provide cushioning as well.
While these devices provide support for a variety of foot-related problems, they are not able to provide relief or support for chronic foot disorders and cannot adequately correct biomechanical foot problems. If you have tried over-the-counter shoe inserts without relief, it may be time to make an appointment with the podiatrists at Kansas City Foot Specialists to have your feet evaluated and to be fitted for custom orthotics.
Custom orthotics are support devices that fit inside your shoe to offer support or cushioning; however, these specialized devices are made specifically for your unique foot needs. Custom orthotics are molded to fit your feet only, are considered a prescription device, and are made for you after your feet have undergone a podiatry evaluation. During the evaluation, you may be asked to sit, stand, and walk, and will have molds taken of your feet. It is important that you, and only you, use these orthotics. Because they are tailored to your specific foot structure, use by another person could put that person’s feet at unnecessary risk for injury.
There are two types of prescription orthotics:
Functional orthotics — Functional orthotics control the motion of your foot. Abnormal foot movements may lead to injuries such as tendinitis, shin splints, or other foot disorders. These devices are semi-rigid to provide stability to the foot.
Accommodative orthotics — Accommodative orthotics provide support and cushioning, and are often used to treat uncomfortable disorders such as calluses on the bottom of the foot or diabetic foot ulcers.
The type of orthotic prescribed by your podiatrist will depend on your individual needs and may be used as part of a treatment plan for an existing foot disorder or as a preventative against future foot problems. It is important that you use your orthotics as directed by your podiatrist and in combination with any other therapies that your podiatrist may prescribe.
Whether you use over-the-counter inserts or have prescription orthotics, be sure to regularly inspect your devices for damage or wear. Damaged or old inserts and orthotics will provide less support and may open the door for injuries. Also, inspect your feet regularly for signs of injury, particularly if you are diabetic or have been diagnosed with neuropathy. Treating foot pain and injuries at the first sign of trouble can prevent much larger problems from developing.
To learn more about custom orthotics and shoe inserts and to determine if one or the other is right for you, call Kansas City Foot Specialists today at 913-338-4440 to schedule an appointment.