Can Store-bought Orthotics Cause More Harm than Good?

by | Nov 7, 2018

Custom made orthotics are a valuable tool in a podiatrist’s arsenal of treatments.

In cases when an abnormality in foot structure is causing pain, or excess pressure is being placed on a vulnerable or sensitive area of the foot, custom orthotics can address these issues in very specific and individualized ways.

Whether someone’s orthotics are made more to provide extra cushioning and support in needed areas (accommodative) or to change the biomechanical motion of your feet and ankles (functional), each patient will have a different set of needs and areas of focus. That’s what makes “custom” orthotics custom!

Another option does exist, though, sitting at the local pharmacy. Over the counter or “store-bought” orthotics are much less individualized, adopting more of a “one size fits all” style. The tradeoff is that not being custom-made makes them a less expensive option (although insurance can often make this a non-issue).

Store-bought orthotics can be tempting, but are they truly worth it? Can their results be less than desired, or even make things worse?

Not a Sure Gamble

We are not going to lie and say that over the counter orthotics will never work for anyone. If they didn’t, would you expect them to still be stocked on the shelves?

When it comes to very minor aches and pains that just require a little cushioning, store-bought orthotics can be an effective approach. They don’t tend to last as long as custom orthotics, being made of lower quality materials, but the price point makes their disposability more reasonable.

All that said, however, would we recommend just going out and trying a store-bought orthotic for any kind of foot pain? Most certainly not!

To most effectively treat a problem, you must be sure of its cause. If your foot pain is minor and only an accommodative issue, then some store-bought cushioned inserts could be just the thing you need.

But what if the problem has a functional element? What if there is something about your foot structure or gait that is in need of managing or correcting? This is when the situation has more risk of getting dicey.

Fit and Function are Key

When better stability and positioning are needed to relieve a foot or ankle issue, the cushioning of a store-bought orthotic likely will not be enough.

To put it in a car analogy, an over-the-counter orthotic is a lot like putting air in your tires. It might help your ride if you need it, but it’s not going to address your car being out of alignment! You can continue to expect problems that your first approach just wasn’t going to handle.

Even worse, there is the potential of a non-prescribed orthotic working against your true needs and making problems even worse. Cushioning and support added to one area might take it away from another that very much needs it. It might even redistribute weight across the feet in ways that add pressure to problematic areas.

So, if you use over-the-counter orthotics to try and treat a problem that’s being caused by a structural issue, there are three potential outcomes:

  • You somehow hit the jackpot and the orthotic just happens to be constructed the way you need it. (“Even a stopped clock is right twice a day.”)
  • The orthotic provides either limited relief, or none at all.
  • The orthotic actually makes your current problems worse.

The odds of the last two options happening are much, much higher than the first. Your specific condition and lifestyle needs will also play huge factors into your fate. Do not go hopping about random orthotics if you are an active athlete or runner. You want to make sure what you are landing on is going to give you the best results!

foot in orthotic device

Custom Orthotics Are the Dependable Choice

If you consistently suffer from Achilles tendinitis, flat feet, high arches, plantar fasciitis, or other causes of foot or heel pain, it’s time to get to the root of the problem.

Custom orthotics might not always be the recommended course of treatment. But when they are, you want to ensure they are properly prescribed and not causing you more harm than good. The only way to do so is not on one of those standing analyzers at the store, but with a proper, professional examination and casting.

Additionally, custom orthotics are often covered yearly by insurance, and are made of durable materials to ensure they will last that long, if not longer.

As your foot structure and needs might change, so too can your custom orthotics. We can adjust and refurbish them as necessary to provide 100 percent of what you need. You can’t say that with store-boughts!

If you live with diabetes, it’s even more important that you take special care with the orthotics and specialized shoes you use. They should be customized entirely to address any needs you have while creating no risks of causing sores and irritation.

The best way to treat any foot and ankle problem is by going to someone who will take your full situation into account. Waukesha Foot Specialists knows the ins and outs of custom orthotics, as well as many other treatments that can bring you relief.

To schedule an appointment, reach out to our Watertown Road office by calling (262) 544-0700. You can also fill out our online contact form to have a member of our staff get in touch.

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