Orthotics, also known as orthoses, refers to any device inserted into a shoe, ranging from felt pads to custom-made shoe inserts that correct an abnormal or irregular, walking pattern. Often called arch supports, orthotics allow people to stand, walk, and run more efficiently and comfortably. Orthoses are either prescription or over-the-counter. The latter helps address patients with mild symptoms. The former corrects a wider range of symptoms because it’s designed specifically to fit an individual’s unique foot structure.
Orthotic devices come in many shapes, sizes, and materials and fall into three main categories:
- designed to change foot function
- designed primarily for protection
- designed for functional control and protection.
Rigid orthotic devices are designed to control function and used primarily for walking or dress shoes. Rigid orthotics control motion in the two major foot joints that lie directly below the ankle joint and may improve or eliminate strains, aches, and pains in the legs, thighs, and lower back. The podiatrist creates a mold by taking a cast or a 3D image of the patients foot. The orthotic are custom made from firm material, such as plastic or carbon fiber.
Soft orthotics are generally used to absorb shock, increase balance, and take pressure off uncomfortable or sore spots. They are usually effective for diabetic, arthritic, and deformed feet. Soft orthotics are typically made up of soft, cushioned materials so that they can be worn against the sole of the foot, extending from the heel past the ball of the foot, including the toes. Like rigid orthotics, soft orthotics are also made from a mold after a podiatrist takes a plaster cast or other kind of image of the foot.
Semi-rigid orthotics provide foot balance for walking or participating in sports. The typical semi-rigid orthotic is made up of layers of soft material, reinforced with more rigid materials. Semi-rigid orthotics are often prescribed for children to treat flatfoot and in-toeing or out-toeing disorders. These orthotics are also used to help athletes mitigate pain while they train and compete.