If you have pain under your heel first thing in the morning, or at the back of your heel after activity, you may be glad to know that many foot conditions such as these can be treated with the help of orthotics. They are a conservative, non-invasive way to fix alignment problems, ease discomfort, and add cushioning, among other things. They can either be purchased in a store or prescribed by a podiatrist.
What Is An Orthotic?
It is a device that is worn inside your shoes to help fix a problem with your feet. They have two main functions: to support the foot where needed to control improper motion, or to add padding and cushioning between the foot and the shoe. The main objectives in using orthoses are to correct a problem and to ease your pain while the issue is being fixed. They can be made out of plastic, metal, rubber, leather, or foam padding. Many shoes are able to accommodate these devices, but not all, so it’s important to try them out with shoes you wear every day.
You have noticed these shoe inserts at your pharmacy or grocery store. You can get them almost anywhere and anyone can use them. There are several types:
- Arch supports– for people with either high arches or flat feet. They offer support for the arches and ease discomfort.
- Insoles – they offer cushioning on the inside of your shoe. They are typically made out of soft material such as gel or foam.
- Heel liners– often used in patients with thinner skin or heel pads who need extra cushioning in that area.
- Foot cushions– used to treat calluses or blisters by protect your feet from rubbing against your shoes.
When you make the decision to purchase an over the counter orthotic there are some things to keep in mind. Consider your activity level and how comfortable the insert is. Try it on in the store if possible with the shoes you wear regularly. Also think about your overall health. If you have diabetes or a serious foot condition you may want to talk to your podiatrist about getting something a bit sturdier.
If your device is prescribed by a medical professional and made for your unique feet it is considered custom-made. You cannot get these just anywhere. They are a bit more of an investment, but they are well worth it. There are two types:
- Functional – these address imbalances in the foot by providing support where it is needed to give a better foot motion during activity. They can help with pain from tendonitis or plantar fasciitis.
- Accommodative– they provide extra cushioning and support for painful areas like calluses or diabetic foot ulcers.
Custom foot orthotics are made out of durable materials that are meant to last many years. There are a number of foot conditions that can be treated with these inserts, so that foot function is restored and your pain is gone.
Getting the Proper Fit
Everything from serious foot disorders to more common foot and ankle conditions can be exacerbated by one, avoidable cause: inappropriate, poor quality, and/or ill-fitting shoes. Any podiatrist will tell you that a quality, properly fitted shoe pays big dividends for your feet—now and in the future.The most important quality to look for in shoes is durable construction that will protect your feet and keep them comfortable. Shoes that do not fit properly can cause bunions, corns, calluses, hammertoes and other disabling foot disorders.
Here are some tips to help reduce the risk of foot problems when shopping for shoes:
- Don't force your feet into a pair of shoes in order to conform to the shape of the shoe. The shoe needs to conform to the shape of your foot.
- Fit new shoes to your largest foot. Most people have one foot larger than the other.
- Have both feet measured every time you purchase shoes. Foot size increases as you get older.
- If the shoes feel too tight, don't buy them. There is no such thing as a "break-in period."
- Many high-heeled shoes have a pointed or narrow toe box that crowds the toes and forces them into an unnatural triangular shape. As heel height increases, the pressure under the ball of the foot may double, placing greater pressure on the forefoot as it is forced into the pointed toe box. Limit heel height to two inches or less to protect your feet.
- Shoes should be fitted carefully to your heel as well as your toes.
- Sizes vary among shoe brands and styles. Judge a shoe by how it fits on your foot, not by the marked size.
- There should be a half-inch of space from the end of your longest toe to the end of the shoe.
- Try on new shoes at the end of the day. Your feet normally swell and become larger after standing or sitting during the day, which makes for a better fit.
- Be sure to try on both shoes. Walk around the shoe store in the shoes to make sure they fit well and feel comfortable.
- When the shoe is on your foot, you should be able to freely wiggle all of your toes.
Women invite foot problems by wearing high heels. High heels may contribute to knee and back problems, disabling injuries in falls, shortened calf muscles, and an awkward, unnatural gait. In time, high heels may cause enough changes in the feet to impair their proper function. Most women admit high heels make their feet hurt, but they tolerate the discomfort in order to look taller, stylish, and more professional.
There are ways to relieve some of the abusive effects of high heels. Women can limit the time they wear them by alternating with good-quality, oxford-type shoes or flats for part of the day. Keep the heel height to no more than two inches and make sure the fit for the rest of the shoe is good. Varying heel heights whenever possible to wear shoes as low as possible in each situation. For example, there are comfortable and attractive "walking" pumps for women for work and social activities.
Experts say the best shoes for women may be:
- A walking shoe with ties (not a slip-on).
- Shoes with a Vibram-type composition sole.
- A relatively wider heel, no more than a half or three-quarters of an inch in height.