Custom-tailored supports for your tender tootsies

Orthotics is the practice of fitting and/or designing devices such as splints and braces. This term most frequently refers the custom design of specialized foot products that help to prevent and correct any imbalances or deformities that may hinder proper and safe movement.

The devices prescribed by an orthotist to correct foot movement are also called orthotics. However, the benefits of orthotics go beyond feet, as properly supported feet lead to proper alignment of the rest of the body.

According to the American Podiatric Medical Association, orthotics for adults fall into three broad categories: rigid, semi-rigid and soft.

  • Rigid orthotics limit the motion of two of the joints in the foot. This is said to control the foot's function for those with poor foot placement. These orthotics are hard and inflexible, and they tend to be very durable. Hard orthotics are used in order to hold the foot in the most stable and correct position.
  • Semi-rigid orthotics are used by athletes as performance enhancers. They tend to be sport-specific, ensuring that the foot functions properly while performing certain movements.
  • Soft orthotics are used to absorb shock, improve balance or relieve pressure on a sore point. These orthotics are less durable, but can usually be more easily adjusted than other options. They also change shape to mold to a particular foot, which has advantages and disadvantages. They are often used with arthritic or deformed feet that need extra cushion.
  • Orthotics are used by a diverse population, including the elderly, overweight, athletes and people who are born with foot deformities. Orthotists need to be able to fit correct devices for each individual. In some cases, this is done with over-the-counter products, but often a device will need to be tailor-made. This is what's termed an orthotic prescription.

Proper foot function is vital to overall health. If you doubt this, just think about how inhibited you felt the last time you had a blister on your foot, or a sprained toe. Incorrect foot placement and movement radiates dysfunction up into the body. Over time, these add-on effects become permanent disabilities. People suffering from knee pain, hip problems and even aching shoulders may find relief in a properly designed and fitted orthotic. Not all people are candidates for orthotics, of course, but for those who are, these kinds of devices can be a key supplement to other kinds of health care, whether it's traditional Western medicine or massage.

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