Purpose of orthotics.
Orthoses act much like glasses or contact lenses. They are devices worn to correct a physical problem, restoring proper function and/or relieving pain. In this case, they fit in your shoes to control the way your feet function and to alleviate pain from pronation (turning of the foot), flat feet, heel pain, persistent ankle sprains, bunions, corns, or calluses, etc.
Most of these problems result from a misalignment of foot bones and muscles. Orthoses form the needed braces for the feet, controlling them so they focus our feet on hitting the ground at the proper angle.
Orthotics are prescription items.
Like glasses or contacts, you need a prescription for a pair of orthoses. That's because your feet are unique No two feet are exactly alike and no two foot problems are exactly the same. For minor problems, you could try non-prescription arch supports and the like, and they may indeed serve you well, just as a pair of non-prescription specs can do a good job in reading small print. Real solutions to a genuine foot problem may call for orthoses custom made to your individual needs. Orthoses are designed to eliminate pressure points, improper foot rotation and painful muscle strain. They let you resume normal activities (walking, running, exercise or sports) in total comfort.
How are orthotics prescribed?
First, of course, you need a thorough examination. Your practitioner studies your condition and its cause; takes a medical history and often makes X-rays; evaluates your walking pattern; and considers such factors as your age, physical condition, work, activities, even the shoes you normally wear. Your practitioner also makes actual casts or impressions of your feet held in their neutral or correct position. These casts, along with the doctor's clinical evaluation, go to an orthosis laboratory. There, professional technicians craft your orthoses from high impact materials, adding special padding, heel lifts or built-up areas as prescribed. Your orthoses come back to your footcare specialist ready for you to slip in your shoes to gently, consistently guide your feet into the correct position as you stand or move. There may be a gradual break-in period, but once you get used to them, you won't want to walk without them again.
Are there different kinds of orthotics?
As with glasses, orthoses are made in different types of construction: Rigid, Semi-Rigid and Soft (or Flexible).
Rigid orthoses provide maximum functional control of the foot, excellent for growing
children, and are often prescribed for foot and leg pain, back pain, leg length differences and abnormal foot function.
Semi-rigid orthoses combine foot protection with functional control. Since they offer shock absorption, they are often prescribed as sports orthoses. They are also the orthoses of choice for shoes which will not accommodate full-size orthoses, such as women's dress shoes.
Soft orthoses maximize shock absorption for people who have lost the protective fat
pad cushioning on the soles of the feet and consequently suffer from painful pressure areas. This type is helpful for geriatric patients, arthritics, diabetics and patients with severely deformed feet. Your needs may call for more than one pair of orthoses, one for work and one for recreation, for example. Women who wear different heel heights may also need a second pair. Whatever style you get, always have them with you when you buy new shoes, to be sure of a proper fit. Orthoses should fit snugly and not rock or tilt excessively in shoes. Closed, low-heel shoes offer the best fit.
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