Orthotics are sometimes used in the treatment of plantar fasciitis, achilles tendon pain, and heel spurs, metatarsalgia (ball of foot pain), ankles giving way, and bunions, to name a few. They change or support the alignment of your foot to give you the control that you need while running or walking. Wearing insoles or orthotics is not necessarily permanent - we often use them as a means to an end to speed up recovery from an injury.
If you are having symptoms related to your foot biomechanics that cannot be controlled by exercise and the appropriate choice of footwear, orthotics may be an option. There are 2 main types of orthotics:
1. Off the shelf and semi-customised insoles, which we stock in the clinic, can be adapted to suit your foot. Both of them can be moved from shoe to shoe. These are generally less expensive than a customised orthotic, and this is usually what we start with. These would be for the more minor complaints, or as a less expensive version of the customised orthotics.
2. We can also fit for customised orthotics. These are more durable than the less expensive softer insoles, and usually last about 3-4 years. We use these for people who are wearing their softer insole down too quickly, or whose foot needs a mould taken to customise the orthotic completely to their foot. This involves us making a mould of your foot, and sending this mould to a lab that then customises an orthotic to suit your foot and it's needs. These are custom-made inserts that you can put into all of your footwear.
We sometimes recommend soft insoles for children or teenagers who are having "growing pains" such as knee pain, tendonitis, or heel pain, that can occur due to the body changing. Generally for this we use a gentle off the shelf insole to support the foot, which we adapt to suit your foot. These are usually quite comfortable. This does not mean that they will need to wear them forever, usually it is just temporary to get them through a period of injury or through a growth spurt.
Usually an orthotic is not the only "fix". Generally they are used as part of a treatment plan, which may also include strengthening or stretching certain muscles, "hands on" treatment if needed, and possibly tweaking certain things that you are doing that may be adding to the pain.
Can orthotics improve sports performance?
Despite the popularity of orthotics and of various types of running shoes, there is actually very little evidence (so far!) to say that orthotics improve sports performance or reduce the risk of getting injured while running or walking. However! Some studies have been done looking at COMFORT of running shoes and orthotics, and they have found that if they feel comfortable they can reduce the injury risk. Sounds odd, but it’s not really - the better or nicer they feel on your feet, the more likely they are to give you the natural support that you need. This then allows you to move “naturally” or in a more ideal way. This can also improve sports performance as the better they feel and they more they support your natural foot shape, the less muscle activity required to keep you moving forward. So this will improve energy efficiency and reduce fatigue.
So in summary, not enough research has been done on this, but having what feels good around your feet, be it footwear, being barefoot, or having orthotics (and which it is will vary person to person), can reduce injury risk and improve sports performance.