Why Custom Orthotics Win Out Over Store-Bought

by | Aug 15, 2019

When it comes to chronic foot or ankle pain—such as the type that might greet you each morning with a jolt as soon as you put your feet on the floor—the goal of treatment is to provide lasting relief. In many situations, orthotics are an invaluable tool for providing the support and cushioning to do so.

Orthotics often take the form of removable insoles or supports that are inserted into shoes, and there some options for this form of treatment.

First, there are custom orthotics. These are the orthotics we prescribe specifically to be created for a patient’s individual foot shape and needs. Then there are store-bought orthotics, which are pre-fabricated.

As you might suspect, the pre-fabricated orthotics are a cheaper option than those that are custom-made. However, this isn’t a case where the generic option provides the same exact thing for a lower cost than the name brand. There are significant differences here.

And to help point out those differences, we’re going to use a fuzzy little metaphor.

Capturing Every Nuance

Let’s say you have an adorable tabby named Alvin. (If you actually do, please send us photos.)

You want a painting of Alvin to hang on your wall, so you can look at your cat when you’re not looking at your cat. What do you do?

You could go to a store and find a painting that looks as much like Alvin as possible. This is a lot like going to the store or pharmacy for pre-fabricated orthotics.

There is a chance that you might find something that looks enough like Alvin from a distance to provide some amount of satisfaction, but it would take an extremely rare, “room full of monkeys on typewriters” kind of circumstance to find something that was an exact match.

On the other hand, you could have a painter paint Alvin’s portrait for you. This will come at a higher cost, but the result will be made to Alvin’s exact image. It is truly one of a kind, and that can be very important.

The Exact Help Your Feet Need

The structure of our feet can have a crucial influence on our comfort.

A foot shape that is “standard” will properly distribute weight across the feet as we stand and walk. When abnormalities in shape and structure are present, however, the balance of forces can be thrown off in ways that create excess force in certain areas. This can play a significant role in the development of chronic pain and increased risk of injuries such as Achilles tendinitis or plantar fasciitis.

What must be kept in mind, however, is that no two pairs of feet are exactly the same. The structure of one may differ from the structure of another, even if both are experiencing the same type of pain.

Pre-fabricated orthotic inserts may be helpful enough in some minor cases where a little bit of cushioning is all you need. We will not shy away from telling you if this is the case.

But in situation where there is significant, lasting pain—and structural issues are playing a significant role—a more direct and individualized approach to orthotics will most likely be necessary. Attempting to use a pre-fabricated insert will likely provide little-to-no relief, and in some cases may provide support or cushioning in the wrong areas, making problems worse.

What Goes into Making Custom Orthotics?

Making a one-of-a-kind item takes specific effort. Orthotics are no exception, but they are very much worth it.

Any recommendation of custom orthotics is not made until we conduct a thorough examination of your feet and ankles. This also includes asking questions about your physical activity, when and how your pain presents itself, and other information. It is important to develop a holistic picture of the situation to provide the best course of treatment.

If custom orthotics are a recommended part of your treatment (we may also suggest methods such as stretching, exercise, footwear changes, or night splints instead of or in addition to orthotics), we will then create a high-quality scan or mold of your feet. From this, we make a specific prescription to be sent to a lab where the orthotics are made to specification.

These specifications include different factors. One is the materials used, as they influence the function of the device. Some orthotics should be made of more rigid materials to help provide corrective influence toward abnormal motions (functional orthotics). Others should be made of softer materials to focus more on cushioning and support (accommodative orthotics). Many should be some combination of the two.

Another factor is the specific amount of material needed, to coincide with the shape and structure of each foot. This needs to be monitored over time, with refurbishment and replacement needed when the materials start to wear down. You can expect this to happen a lot later than it does for pre-made orthotics, though.

Once the orthotics arrive, you will be fitted for them. Sometimes a few minor adjustments may be needed for the best fit and effects. Following up will help ensure that everything is functioning well.

Help for All Your Foot and Ankle Needs

Whether you have been suffering from lasting discomfort or another foot and ankle malady, please do not hesitate to give Waukesha Foot Specialists a call at (262) 544-0700. Whether the problem requires a minor adjustment or advanced approach, our experts will provide the thorough, caring advice and treatment that is specific to your needs.

If you prefer to contact us electronically, our line is open! Fill out our online contact form and a member of our staff will be in touch.

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