Technically orthotics is a field of medicine, that deals with realignment of the body using medical grade devices, such as orthoses (specialist insoles) made to a prescription. However in the running world most people refer to orthotics as the specialist insoles made by a medical professional (such as a podiatrist) to adjust your foot within your shoe to eliminate or prevent injuries.
Orthotics are actually a lot more popular than people think, we estimate that roughly 1 in 5 customers we see in-store for footwear fittings wear or have worn orthotics/orthoses at some time.
There are several reasons for needing them, but the main reason is foot misalignment. Most people have differences between their left and right feet and also have malalignments that can lead to injuries when running. Think of it like having bad wheel alignment on your car, if you don’t fix it then you will wear out the tires much quicker. The lower body is very similar, if you keep running or walking on badly aligned feet then your body will suffer, your joints will wear more quickly and you’ll get injuries elsewhere in the body.
How do Orthotics work?
Orthoses work by aligning the feet into a biomechanically preferred position. When you have them made the clinician will first perform a biomechanical assessment on you to establish what what type of insole you need and what type of correction needs to be applied to your feet to eliminate your injury. They will then take a mould of your feet (either by plaster cast, 3D scan or vacuum mould). The orthoses will be made from this mould and will have subtle contours or wedges added to them to hold your feet in a better position. With the orthotics worn in your shoes everyday they will always be holding the foot in a better position and therefore reduce the possibility of the same injury occurring again and also help the existing injury to heal quicker. Orthotics are generally made of rigid plastics, but sometimes foams or even carbon fibre are used.
Do they fix my feet permanently?
No. Orthotics only work when they are in contact with the feet, think of them more like glasses where they work when worn; as opposed to braces in the teeth that can realign the teeth once worn for long enough.
Should I get Orthotics?
This depends entirely if you have any injuries as a result of biomechanical problems, or reoccurring problems when you walk or run. Bear in mind that there is no evidence of orthoses improving performance if you don’t need them then there isn’t really any reason to wear them. If you have any injuries or problems when you exercise then orthotics could certainly help you, but you should always seek a professional opinion from a podiatrist first; otherwise you could end up spending money on insoles that aren’t necessary.
Have you had any experiences with orthotics that you would like to tell your fellow runners about? Why not pop it in the comments below.