When it comes to the possible tools and techniques we have to help patients overcome painful conditions, perhaps the most versatile is the use of orthotic therapy. Custom orthotics can be used to treat issues as diverse as bunions, cavus foot (high, rigid foot arches), flatfoot, metatarsalgia (forefoot pain), and plantar fasciitis (the leading cause of heel pain for adults).
These medical devices are customized to the unique specifications of a patient’s feet, typically fit within regular footwear, and allow normal movement (often in a biomechanically-improved manner). When ailments are discovered early on, the use of custom orthotics can prevent the necessity of surgery later on down the road.
Why Do We Prescribe Orthotics?
Orthotic devices generally fall into one of two categories – functional and accommodative. Functional orthotics are constructed from sturdy materials and are prescribed to restrict motion. Accommodative orthotics tend to be made from softer materials and can provide additional cushioning to account for structural abnormalities.
The primary reason that orthotics are so effective at addressing medical issues is the simple fact they are customized for a patient’s unique feet and gait pattern. In addition to the aforementioned conditions, we use them to treat hammertoe, Morton’s neuroma, and limb length deformities. Additionally, we may prescribe orthotic devices as treatment (and prevention) for neuropathic ulceration.
There are also as many types of orthotic inserts as there are conditions that benefit from using them as part of a treatment plan. These include:
- Heel wedges used to guide the foot into turning either inward or outward and prevent the ankle region from sliding down the incline.
- Heel flares used to prevent inward or outward turning and offer stability.
- Sole wedges used to promote healthy pronation or supination, depending on their lateral or medial construction.
- Rocket bars used to shift the rollover point from the metatarsal head to the metatarsal shaft to prevent discomfort in patients who have foot ulcers.
- Toe crests used to fill the void under the under toes. (These devices are typically closer to the body and are often placed behind the second, third, and fourth toes to reduce stress.)
How Do Orthotics Help Pronation Issues?
In addition to a wide array of medical conditions and injuries, orthotic devices are also used to correct pronation abnormalities. Pronation is a natural process used by feet in every step they take. During the ground portion of a step, the foot rotates inwards from the heel strike all the way through the final push of the toes. This rotation isn’t intended to be particularly great—around fifteen percent is ideal—but it is quite important for ensuring proper distribution of the forces that come from walking and running.
Depending on an individual’s foot structure, he or she may either pronate too much (overpronation) or not enough (supination). As a general rule, overpronation is often linked to flatfoot and supination is connected to cavus foot. These pronation abnormalities lead to unequitable distribution of force loads, which means that certain areas of the foot face more pressure than they are intended. This can lead to a variety of issues.
The good news is that custom orthotics can help with either of these biomechanical irregularities.
What Are AFOs?
Whereas many orthotics are designed to slip inside your shoes and reside there unseen, sometimes it is necessary for our doctors at Foot and Ankle Clinic of the Virginias to prescribe orthotic braces. Ankle-foot orthotics (AFOs) are designed to control the ankle’s position and motion to compensate for deformities and weakness caused by conditions like arthritis or drop foot. AFOs are also used to treat peripheral neuropathy, disorders that affect muscle function, and stroke patients.
No matter what type of orthotic is right for you, Foot and Ankle Clinic of the Virginias will make sure you are prescribed custom orthotic inserts that alleviate pain and discomfort. If you experience any of the conditions orthotics treat, contact us at (800) 456-8637 and schedule an appointment with one of our seven offices today!