How do Orthotics Work?

Orthotics are useful for people who have conditions that affect the feet, legs and lower back. Some of these include uneven shoe wear, chronic lower back pain, bunions or plantar fasciitis. Some of these devices are commercially available and others are custom made to address a specific patient’s foot mechanics. In either case, the orthotics work in the same way. The process of fitting orthotics starts with a trip to a podiatrist who will take the mechanics of the patient’s step into account and decide what orthotics will work to correct the problem.

Next, the doctor will fit the patient for the orthotic device. Simple forms of orthotics include cushioned insoles and or heels for a pair of shoes. More advanced orthotics are things like foot braces, ankle braces and shin devices. As part of the fitting process, the doctor will have the patient walk with the device to see if the foot mechanics, or the way the foot strikes the ground, improves. If the device needs to be custom made, the doctor will take an impression of the patient’s foot and send it to a lab to have the orthotic device made.

As the patient walks with the orthotic device, the muscles, tendons and bones in the foot, ankle and leg become accustomed to the new way the foot moves during walking. Gradually, the new way becomes normal. This processes is often likened to training a baby how to walk properly. Once the doctor feels confident that the orthotic is working, he may gradually wean the patient off the device. Sometimes, this is done by lessening the time the device is used. Other times, it is done by changed to a less confining device. In either case, the ultimate goalĀ is to get the patient’s walking mechanics fixed to the point where orthotics are no longer needed.