When it comes to proper foot and ankle care, you need suitable tools for the job. Orthotics can be very helpful tools for many painful conditions, but making sure you choose the right orthotics for your situation can have significant influences on your overall comfort and chances of suffering painful problems.
Orthotics come in two major options:
- Over-the-counter orthotics, which you can typically nab off the shelves of a pharmacy or supermarket. They tend to come in various standardized shapes and forms with very little (if any) means of customization.
- Custom orthotics, which are prescribed to the specific shape and needs of each foot, very much like how eyeglasses can be prescribed to the specific needs and shape of the eye. No two sets of custom orthotics are exactly the same.
We are not here to say that over-the-counter orthotic inserts never serve any purpose. There are some circumstances where we may recommend OTC inserts as a suitable option for a patient’s needs.
However, the two forms of orthotics are far from interchangeable. If custom orthotics are recommended for you, the chances are very, very low that going out and finding an off-the-shelf insert instead is going to meet your needs.
There are certain advantages that custom orthotics offer over OTC models, and they can make a world of difference when they’re needed.
The Custom Prescription Can Matter a Lot
We have already noted how custom orthotics are prescribed specifically for one patient’s feet (and nobody else’s). What this is means is that they provide very precise amounts of cushioning and corrective support in exactly the areas a patient needs them. This is based on making molds or scans of a patient’s feet, and using our expertise to determine what is needed where.
In cases involving an abnormality in foot structure or gait, a prescribed custom orthotic can properly redistribute weight and other forces across the foot while walking. This can prevent excessive stress or strain from focusing on certain areas, leading to discomfort, pain, or injury.
Since our feet are complex moving structures with many parts working in tandem, having something off by even a small degree can lead to significant trouble. The more closely you adjust the factors of motion and weight distribution to normal, the better the results will typically be – and for that, you need precision tools.
In other words, you wouldn’t try to fix a Swiss watch with the first screwdriver you find in the garage, right? In many cases, feet need a similar approach.
Having an exact design can also be highly beneficial for diabetic patients who need the pressure against certain “hot spots” reduced. Taking pressure away from these specific areas can greatly reduce the chances of irritation and potentially dangerous sores developing – in ways that many OTC orthotics are not able to provide.
Custom Orthotics Are Built to Last Longer
Over-the-counter orthotics are not often built for the long run. Depending on how much use they receive, it can only be a matter of a few months until you need to head back for a replacement. They are designed for mass production, after all.
Custom orthotics, on the other hand, are designed with much more durable materials (graphite and plastics as opposed to silicone and cork). Even with intense use, you can still expect them to last for at least a year, and many can last up to 5 years or longer.
The best way to ensure that custom orthotics last a long time and are meeting your needs is to come in for a periodic check-up of their performance. This typically happens once per year, but we may recommend coming in sooner or later based on what you use your orthotics for and how much wear and tear you put them through.
During an orthotics check-up, we can gauge the wear of your orthotics and refurbish or replace them if necessary.
Additionally – and just as importantly – we can make any adjustments to your custom orthotics as needed. People and even feet change over time, and that can affect how their orthotics perform. If you have a substantial change in weight, the physical demands of your career or hobbies, or other influential factors in your life, we may need to adjust your orthotics to better fit your new needs.
Custom Orthotics Can Be Covered by Insurance
Custom orthotics are undoubtedly a larger investment if you are comparing one pair of them to a pair of OTC inserts – although you are arguably getting more durability and performance out of the former.
However, many insurance plans effectively cover the cost of a pair of custom orthotics – and often do so once per year! That means you can start with one pair of custom orthotics that are still usable by the time you can cover a second pair. You could end up with a pair for “everyday” shoes and one for your running shoes, work shoes, or other shoes you tend to spend time in.
What Type of Orthotic May Be Best for You?
Determining the best options for your foot and ankle needs requires not only a physical examination, but also understanding more about your symptoms and how they affect your life. Once we have all the information we need, we’ll be in the best position to make treatment recommendations that suit your needs.
A treatment plan might involve a simpler OTC orthotic, it might involve custom orthotics, or it might even involve neither. We will always be more than happy to discuss our recommendations with you and answer any questions you may have so you can make your choice on how to move forward with the utmost confidence.
Are you ready to take care of persistent heel pain, foot pain, or other problems? Call our Berkeley office at (510) 647-3744 to schedule an appointment with us, or fill out our online contact form if you prefer to reach out electronically instead.