Orthotics, which can include shoe inserts, ankle bracelets, foot pads, arch supports and so on, are medical devices that are designed to correct ankle and foot problems without the need for surgery. Both off-the-shelf and custom orthotics are available, ranging in prices from under $30 to several hundred. As noted by the American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society (AOFAS), most people who wear orthotics start with the former, and then eventually progress to the latter as needed, or as advised by an orthopedic doctor.
Before highlighting some of the common signs and symptoms that might mean orthotics are in your future, it may be helpful to take a moment and focus on footwear. While it’s true that shoe comfort, design and quality has come a long way in the last few decades – take for example some athletics shoes that seem to be engineered by NASA scientists – the fact remains that human beings are not fundamentally built to wear shoes.
Of course, this does not mean we should all go around barefoot, since there are many benefits of slipping on or lacing up a pair of shoes or boots. And in some environments (warehouses, etc.), special shoes are a must for health and safety. However, it does mean that it’s unrealistic to expect that a pair of shoes or boots – regardless of how advanced or state-of-the-art they might be – are going to be enough to prevent foot pain or damage over a lifetime. Remember that your feet – those neglected helpers at the end of your body that you don’t notice until they start aching or itching – withstand an enormous amount of pressure every single day.
What’s more, lack of support and structural misalignment in the feet can, and often does, trigger pain and health problems in other parts of the body, most notably the knee, hip and back. Indeed, while we tend to view the body as a set of different parts and pieces, it is essentially a holistic system, and weaknesses or vulnerabilities in one area will invariably create problems and pain in another.
With the above in mind, let’s look at three signs that could mean you need to pick up a pair of orthotics, or perhaps make an appointment with an orthopedic doctor so that she or he can take a closer look at what’s really going on down there, step after painful or burning step:
1. Your shoes wear out more on one side vs. the other, or on one foot more than the other. This is often a sign that one of your legs is longer than the other.
2. One or both of your feet pronate (your foot rolls in) or supinate (your foot rolls out). Take a footprint with your wet feet by standing on a paper towel. If you see a C-curve, your arch is probably supinating. If you don’t see a C-curve, then your arch is probably pronating.
3. You experience lingering foot pain (e.g. arch, heel, toes, etc.) that doesn’t go away within minutes after removing shoes or boots.
Yes, occasional foot pain is a part of life. But chronic, acute or lingering pain isn’t healthy or necessary. Make an appointment with an orthopedic doctor to learn more. You’ll be glad you did – and so will your tired, overworked and under-appreciated feet!