Orthotics are devices placed in a shoe and are designed to help people with foot problems. Many people with foot problems can benefit from orthotics, such as those who have plantar fasciitis, shin splints, a leg length issue, a diabetic foot ulcer, or flat feet. People with arthritis can also experience pain relief by wearing orthotics that cushion and support any area of the foot, whether it is the heel, arch, or another region.
When the proper orthotics are used, they can sometimes help relieve pain not only in the foot itself but in other parts of the body, such as the ankle, leg, knee, and back. This is because when the foot is positioned abnormally—like when a person has flat feet—it can move other structures of the body out of alignment.
Insoles (nonprescription orthotics, sometimes referred to as orthotic insoles, shoe insoles, or inserts) can be purchased over the counter at drugstores and other locations. These off-the-shelf orthotics are sometimes used by people who don’t have a medical issue—or don't know they have one—because they haven’t been properly diagnosed. People who purchase these insoles are typically looking for greater comfort, such as extra heel cushioning or arch support, or added cushioning across the insole of the shoe so it is warmer.
There are also specialists known as certified pedorthists who have special training in finding the best footwear and orthotics for people. Pedorthists may work in specialized shoe stores, and while they can offer expert advice, they do not have medical training in foot issues.
In contrast, a podiatrist or foot doctor is a specialty-trained physician. This medical expert has undergone extensive training in diagnosing and treating foot conditions, such as plantar fasciitis, bunions, Morton’s neuroma, and other foot issues. Whether a patient with a foot problem requires a custom-molded orthotic to correct an arch support issue, a prescription medication, a nonsurgical procedure, or surgery, a podiatrist is qualified to offer this full range of treatment options.
So, while over-the-counter insoles are widely available, it’s important to recognize that they only offer limited foot support since they are mass-produced rather than custom-designed to address an individual’s specific foot issue. These types of shoe orthotics should never be worn to mask an underlying problem, and you should see a doctor for a diagnosis if you are experiencing foot pain.
Orthotics for Specific Conditions
Here are examples of common foot conditions for which the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) recommends using orthotics:
- Bunions: This is a foot condition where a bony bump develops on the base of the big toe. If you have one, your foot doctor may recommend an orthotic called a bunion shield pad, along with stretchy, seamless shoes with a wide toe box.
- Corns and Calluses: If these areas of thickened skin are on or between the toes, a toe separator may offer pain relief.
- Flat Feet (in Adults): Flatfoot is a condition where a person has no foot arch. If a patient is pain-free, no orthotic device is recommended. However, if there is pain, the AAOS recommends a semirigid insert, long arch pad, inner heel wedge, or extended heel counter.
- High Arch (Cavus Foot): Cavus foot is a foot deformity where the arch is unusually high. To help distribute pressure evenly and reduce pain, soft orthotic cushions are recommended.
- Morton’s Neuroma: This is a nerve tissue condition that causes pain in the ball of the foot, specifically between the third and fourth toes. In addition to recommending shoes with a wide toe box, the AAOS recommends using a metatarsal pad, positioning it over the neuroma.
- Plantar Fasciitis: This is a common injury caused by overuse that commonly involves heel pain. Your doctor may recommend a type of heel insert to relieve the pain.
Keeping You in Motion at Lakeshore Bone & Joint Institute
Our specialty-trained orthopedic doctor, Paul J. Gruszka, M.D., and our specialty-trained podiatrists, Rachel L. Stern, D.P.M., Brian T. Damitz, D.P.M., Aaron K. Ruter, D.P.M., and Hassan Usmani, D.P.M., can diagnose and treat your foot issue. Our foot specialists also provide any follow-up care you may need. While it may be possible to use nonsurgical treatments for your condition, if surgery is required, our doctors can expertly perform the appropriate procedure.
To schedule an appointment with one of our experienced podiatrists, please call (219) 921-1444 or request an appointment online.