Orthotics, also known as orthoses, refers to any material or accessory inserted into a shoe. These devices can range from felt pads to custom-made shoe inserts that correct an abnormal or irregular walking pattern. Orthotics, sometimes called arch supports, allow people to stand, walk, and run more efficiently and comfortably. Over-the-counter orthotics are easily available and usually very affordable, but normally only help with mild symptoms. Prescription orthoses provide correction for a wide range of symptoms as they are made to uniquely fit the individual’s foot structure.
Orthotic devices come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and materials, and fall into three primary categories: those designed to change foot function, those that are primarily protective in nature, and those that combine functional control and protection.
Rigid orthotic devices are designed to control function and are used primarily for walking or dress shoes. Often fashioned from firm material, such as plastic or carbon fiber, rigid orthotics are made from a mold after a podiatrist takes a plaster cast or other kind of image of the foot. Rigid orthotics control motion in the two major foot joints that lie directly below the ankle joint and may improve or eliminate strains, aches, and pains in the legs, thighs, and lower back.
Soft orthotics are generally used to absorb shock (a disturbance or an impact), increase balance, and take pressure off uncomfortable or sore spots. This type is practical for diabetic, arthritic, and deformed feet. Soft orthotics are customarily constructed from soft, cushioned materials so that they can be worn against the sole of the foot. They extend from the heel past the ball of the foot, including the toes. Like rigid orthotics, soft orthotics are also made from a mold after a podiatrist takes a plaster cast or other kind of image of the foot.
Semi-rigid orthotics provide foot balance for walking or participating in sports. The typical semi-rigid orthotic is made up of layers of soft material, reinforced with more rigid materials. Semi-rigid orthotics are often prescribed for children to treat flatfoot and in-toeing or out-toeing disorders. These orthotics are also used to help athletes reduce pain during training and competing.