According to a recent study, foot orthotics have grown from $2.5 Billion in sales in 2014 to a projected $3.5 Billion in sales in 2020. (reference)
It seems like every commercial break I see an advertisement for a foot orthotic, most commonly Dr. Scholl’s.
Not only that, I field the questions: “Are these orthotics any good?”, “do you think I need orthotics?”, or “what brand orthotics are the best?” nearly every single day.
I’m about to burst a lot of bubbles with this one…
The dreadful truth about foot orthotics is that they are likely a waste of money and are not doing what the company is telling you they do.
I know, those fancy gimmicks where you put your foot in plaster and send them off to be “read” and a foot orthotic to be “designed” sounds great. The fancy lasers they attach to your leg to “assess” your foot position look cool. Some of those commercials may even tug on your heartstrings because the stories ring true for you. But, in reality, most of that stuff is a sales gimmick.
The main problem with foot orthotics is that we still are not completely 100% sure how they work. There are some proposed models and theories, but nothing that has been proven as of this writing.
Now, before I explain why they don’t work like you think they do, here are some reasons why I would prescribe them:
- Prevent falls
- Ulcer prevention in the diabetic population
- Some pediatric considerations
- If all else has failed
MYTH 1: Orthotics Are Used To Correct Alignment
Alignment is not a source of pain. There have been multiple studies showing the high variability in movement and not all of it is ‘dysfunctional’. In fact, we all have different postures with no ‘correct’ one to mirror. If we don’t shame people for their body shapes, why do we shame them for their posture? Think about this, if the alignment was so important, how do we have athletes running with a prosthetic limb?
MYTH 2: Orthotics Cause Muscle Weakness In The Foot
The muscles are working all the time in your feet. If you think putting weight through your feet, that is on top of orthotics, will stop muscle activation, you are crazy. If you were to put your hand on a table and put your body weight through it, is there a way you could ‘turn off’ the muscles of the shoulder, elbow, or wrist?
MYTH 3: I Have A Flat Foot/High Arch, I Need An Orthotic
Just because you have a flat foot or high arch, does not mean you desperately need an orthotic. Remember, the structure does not mean pain. If all else has failed in terms of improving your load management for the foot problem, maybe you can try out a foot orthotic. But, don’t just get a foot orthotic off the shelf at Target. Search out experts, such as a Certified Pedorthist or a Certified Orthotist.
People will try to tell you that you need orthotics when you develop any foot, ankle, knee, hip, or back pain. First, be wary of those individuals as research still has not shown great benefits for helping to correct the underlying issue. Also, see what they have to gain from prescribing them to you (i.e. only use their vendors, do they want to add an extra charge to your bill, etc.) And, wearing a foot orthotic should not be a long term solution.
Imagine if you developed shoulder pain and the doctor told you that you need a sling. And, that you will need this sling for the rest of your life. I’m not a betting man, but I would assume you would not be putting your arm in the sling for the rest of your life. So why do we think this is ok to do with orthotics?
If you have foot pain, you should treat it as if it were any other muscle, joint, ligament, etc. that we treat in the body. You should de-load the painful structure and slowly introduce the load again.
If you feel you need help finding out the source of your foot pain or your next best course of action to finally get rid of your foot pain, feel free to apply for a consultation.