The truth behind orthotics

By Briana Hayes
Staff Writer

 

The array of people with back pain and foot problems is endless. But before you spend hundreds of dollars on inserts for your shoes, you should know the facts.

The first “orthotics” date back at least 2,000 years with underfoot shoe cushioning. Layers of wool were placed inside the sandals to give relief to foot fatigue or strain.

The first recorded use of an “arch support” orthotic dates back to 1865, introduced by Everett H. Dunbar of Bridgewater, MA. He inserted leather lifts between the insole and outsole to support the arch.

The first full-fledged foot orthotic was known as the “Whitman Brace,” introduced in 1905 by Boston orthopedist Royal Whitman. It was a rigid, heavy metal arch support, flanged around the arch and heel.

It was an ordeal to wear and distorted the shoe. Nevertheless, because of Whitman’s high reputation, it was widely adopted by orthopedic surgeons.

Now the orthotic industry is comprised of hundreds of different choices with specific ones targeted to different types of people: athletes, the elderly, and people with chronic pain.

Orthotics are designed to accommodate or correct an abnormal or irregular walking pattern. They are usually custom made, unless you purchase a standard one in stores such as CVS.

The idea of orthotics seem to make sense. Orthotics are supposed to make standing, walking, and running more comfortable and efficient by altering the angles at which the foot strikes the ground.

Orthotics placed inside your shoes can absorb shock, improve balance, and take pressure off sore spots.

The foot problems orthotics claim to help include plantar fasciitis, poor posture, lower back pain, over pronation or under pronation of the foot, and scoliosis.

Posture is intrinsic for human beings. While standing erect and straight, we can strengthen specific muscles and eliminate pain in the shoulders, neck and back.

Although having good posture may seem like more work, when you stand with poor posture you are causing chronic muscle strain by holding your body in a unnatural position.

In good posture, your body is in proper alignment. Your fatigue and soreness will decrease because muscles are being used efficiently and correctly.

The problem that surround orthotics is that they actually have little effect on the movement of the skeleton during physical activity.

This becomes clear when you speak to people who have been issued orthotics by their doctor. For some they help and other people experience more pain or no improvement.

So the purpose of orthotics does not hold up.

While orthotics do help some people, the conflict lies in what they actually do. For example, corrective orthotics that are issued to people with scoliosis in some instances do not do what they are supposed to.

By using the orthotics, instead of correcting posture and balancing the body out, in fact they are just reducing muscle strength.

Custom orthotics, as well as other footwear devices such as heel lifts and arch supports negatively affect proprioception and foot health more than most footwear because they support muscles, tendons, and ligaments in such a way that they don’t have the need to function as they normally should. Essentially, the feet become weaker and weaker

It is a personal choice to purchase orthotics or not. They are not guaranteed to work.

The prescribing of orthotics is becoming increasingly controversial and some doctors suggest trying other alternatives.

These alternatives include therapy and stretching and strengthening of muscles. These options usually work better and in the end you won’t have to spend $800 on inserts for your shoes.

 

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