Did you know that one-quarter of all the bones in the human body can be found in the foot? That’s huge! The human foot is an incredible and complex system of 33 joints, 26 bones and over 100 muscles, tendons, ligaments, and nerves. If training and playing sports has taken its toll on your feet, an orthotic insert may be the relief you’re looking for.

What Are Orthotics

Deformities, injuries and ailments shouldn’t prevent you from pursuing the everyday activities and sports you enjoy – however, they can make it more painful and impractical. That is where orthotics come in. Orthotics include any type of shoe insert that is designed to help relieve pain, provide cushioning for the feet, promote proper gait, normalize foot and leg motion, and decrease weight-bearing stress.

Custom orthotics that are designed specifically for your foot by an orthopedic surgeon may be required if less-expensive over-the-counter options fail to work. Over-the-counter orthotics can be found online and in big box stores, pharmacies, and maybe even your grocery store – they are typically manufactured from a variety of materials including plastic, graphite, foam, gel, and silicone.

When Is Orthotic Wear Needed

Depending on your condition, the reasons for your pain, or the type of injury you have incurred, orthotics may be a helpful aid – reasons for seeking out orthotic wear might include:

  • Tendinitis: General tendon inflammation resulting in dull to sharp pain, most common as Achilles Tendinitis

  • Plantar Fasciitis: Severe heel pain from inflammation of the plantar fascia tissue that runs across the bottom of the foot

  • Hammer Toe: Any toe (typically the one next to your big toe) with an abnormal bend in the middle joint, resulting in pain, discomfort, corns and calluses

  • Arthritis: Inflammation of one or more of the small joints in the foot or ankle causing pain and stiffness

  • Metatarsalgia (Stone Pain): Pain in the ball of the foot where one or more metatarsal bones (the three middle toes) meet the ball of the foot

  • Sesamoiditis: Irritated and inflamed tendons around the sesamoid bone focusing pain on the ball of the foot under the big toe

  • Shin Splints: Overworked bone tissue, muscles and tendons along the shin resulting in pain

  • Flat or High Arched Feet: Improper arch support from overpronation (inward rolling of feet when walking) or supination (outward rolling of feet when walking)

What Types of Orthotic Wear Are Available

Orthotic inserts vary depending on the condition you are trying to alleviate. For example, plantar fasciitis insoles are going to provide cushioning, shock absorption, and stress reduction specifically for the strained plantar fascia ligament.

Different shoe inserts that focus on aligning your foot and stabilizing your ankle will help take the strain off your lower leg, which is causing conditions like shin splints and tendonitis. Hammer toe and metatarsal pads with toe separators focus cushioning and support on the balls and toes of your feet to address pain and skin irritation, while arch supports normalize motion for people with flat or high arched feet.

If you are experiencing recurring numbness, pain, discomfort or irritation in your lower leg, ankle, or foot, talk with your general practitioner about treatment and what type of orthotic wear might potentially help you. Your doctor may refer you to a sports medicine or orthopedic specialist, or even a podiatrist for further evaluation and custom orthotics.

Orthotic Wear Reminders

Proper healing doesn’t magically happen once you start wearing an orthotic insert for your condition or injury. While partial relief may be immediate, continued use of orthotics inserts for weeks and even months might be needed to resolve the problem.

Orthotics need to work in conjunction with your existing recovery plan, which might be as simple as switching up your training routine, applying heat and ice for inflammation, and resting your leg and foot frequently. They also need to be properly worn in shoes that aren’t too snug – you may need to remove an existing insole to get the best use out of your new insert.

Foot pain is an increasingly common complaint of both athletes and non-athletes alike. In addition to regular workouts and athletic activities, your feet are literally carrying you thousands of miles every year simply through everyday walking. Your feet facilitate your every movement and take quite a beating over your lifetime – protecting them and maintaining your active lifestyle can be aided with orthotic wear.