From heel and arch pain to diabetic ulcers, bunions, and even sports injuries, there is a common factor underlying many of the most common foot and ankle conditions: biomechanics.
Simply put, feet and ankles are designed to function in a certain way. But not all feet perform equally well at this task. Many people have structural or mechanical problems with the way their feet are shaped (for example, flat arches) or the way their joints move. And these biomechanical flaws can mean more stress and pressure on vulnerable tissues and joints—and thus a greater chance of pain and injury.
Because your feet are at the foundation of your body, poor foot and ankle biomechanics can put the entire body out of alignment, causing pain throughout the legs, hips, and even back.
One of the best ways to address these biomechanical flaws, reduce your pain and prevent future complications is through the use of orthotics—recommended or prescribed by an expert in foot and ankle biomechanics.
What Are Orthotics?
Simply put, orthotics are wearable devices that you place inside your shoes, taking the place of your shoe’s existing insoles better. When you are paired with orthotics that correctly fit and reflect your foot shape and condition, they can provide much better support and cushioning than ordinary insoles.
Orthotics can be categorized in many ways—by material, by function, by how they are fit and made, etc. The two most important distinctions accommodative vs. functional and prefabricated vs. custom.
Accommodative and Functional Orthotics
The first important distinction between different types of orthotics is based on their role and function.
- Accommodative orthotics are primarily concerned with cushioning, shock absorption, and relieving pressure from painful areas of the foot. In other words, they accommodate a structural or mechanical flaw rather than counteracting it.
While you may still demonstrate some abnormal motion, the orthotics soak up the additional pressure so your bones and joints don’t have to. Accommodative orthotics generally tend to be made of softer, spongier, and more flexible materials like cork, foam, and silicone.
- Functional orthotics, by contrast, are designed to directly counteract abnormal joint motion and increase stability. In other words, they actually change the way you walk when you wear them, and help you develop a more efficient gait pattern.
As you might expect, functional orthotics tend to be made from more rigid or semi-rigid materials like graphite or plastic. However, this does not mean they are necessarily uncomfortable. The correct functional orthotic with minimal cushioning can be quite comfortable to wear.
Prefabricated and Custom Orthotics
The other important distinction between various orthotics considers how the devices are fitted and made.
- Prefabricated orthotics are mass-produced and sold over-the-counter or without a prescription. There are still a wide variety of styles and materials to choose from, as they are designed to fit many of the most common foot shapes and conditions in all shoe sizes.
However, the fact that prefabricated orthotics are over-the-counter does not mean that you should go out and select whichever pair you want on your own. Your orthotic still has to be carefully selected by a professional who understands foot and ankle biomechanics and how to best treat your condition.
- Custom orthotics, meanwhile, are crafted to your exact foot specifications using a mold, scan, angular measurements, etc. Your doctor takes your measurements and conducts a full examination, the sends the information to a laboratory where the orthotics are made.
Custom orthotics naturally can provide more thorough and sophisticated treatment for severe biomechanical problems with the feet and ankles, and tend to offer the best relief on average. However, they are more expensive and are not always necessary for every case or condition.
When evaluating your feet and ankles, we will determine which type of orthotic—custom or prefab, accommodative or functional—is most appropriate for your situation, and make sure you get a high-quality set of orthotics that fit properly.
Do You Need The Help Of An Experienced and Caring Podiatrist? Contact Our El Paso Foot Doctor Today.
If you're experiencing any type of foot pain you should speak with an experienced podiatrist as soon as possible. Please contact us online to schedule your appoinment or call one of our convenient El Paso offices directly. To reach our Sierra Tower Building podiatrist office please call 915.533.5151. You can find driving directions here. To reach our George Dieter Drive podiatry office please call 915.856.3331. Driving directions are available here.