There are many potential causes of heel pain, and different approaches are required for each condition and patient. But when it comes to many successful treatments, it’s not uncommon to see custom orthotics as part of the plan.
This is not to say that custom orthotics are a “cure-all” for every case of heel pain out there. As with many other forms of heel pain treatment, custom orthotics are only effective in certain situations. But when those situations are properly addressed, patients are often astounded by the long-term relief they receive.
When May Custom Orthotics Be Needed?
The primary function of custom orthotics is to address structural problems in the foot that may be leading to heel pain and other symptoms.
While some cases of heel pain are due solely to overuse or trauma, many have structural abnormalities in the foot as at least a partial cause. In other words, something is “off” about the structure of the foot that is leading to stress or strain in a certain area, which in turn results in heel pain as a symptom.
Think of your foot a bit like a table. When made perfectly to spec, you have a stable piece that properly distributes weight placed upon it. Should part of the structure be off, however (like, say, one of the legs is just a bit too short), the piece can become unstable, and certain parts may be forced to bear more of any weight placed upon it than the original design called for.
Structural abnormalities in the feet, such as flat feet or high arches, can cause weight to become improperly distributed across the feet as we stand and move. Stress builds up against parts of the feet that are not conditioned to endure it well, and strain can result.
Additionally, these structure variations can cause us to subconsciously adjust our gait (i.e. the way we walk) to improve our stability. Since everything is connected when we move, such adjustments can not only contribute to heel pain, but pain farther up the body as well – in the legs, knees, hips, or lower back.
If you have flat feet, high arches, or other structural abnormalities, they were likely inherited and run in your family. There is nothing you could have done to prevent them, and there is little short of surgical correction to get rid of them.
But custom orthotics can still help you find relief from the discomfort such conditions may be causing.
How Custom Orthotics Work
Custom orthotics address heel pain and other issues caused by abnormalities in foot structure and gait. They do so by providing exact amounts of cushioning and support to match the needs of your feet.
Think back to that wobbly table from before. Using custom orthotics is like wedging a napkin beneath the short table leg, only exponentially more precise and effective!
Each set of custom orthotic inserts is prescribed to the needs of one pair of feet, and one pair alone. We take an exact mold or scan of the feet, then order custom orthotics to be designed around each patient’s specific foot shape and needs. Both the types of materials used and how much are carefully chosen, often down to the millimeter.
By adjusting for abnormalities in foot structure and gait, custom orthotics can properly redistribute weight across the feet and shift excess pressure away from the vulnerable areas that were under strain. Conditions such as plantar fasciitis and Achilles tendinitis not only have a better opportunity to heal but are much less likely to develop again in the future.
Custom Orthotics Are a Long-Term Solution
Custom orthotics often require a “break-in” period before their full results are felt, and we may need to make some minor adjustments to them as we see how your feet respond to them with some use. But for those who can benefit from custom orthotics, wearing them can make all the difference!
This difference can become all the more apparent if a patient stops wearing their orthotics. Remember how we said earlier that a little short of surgical intervention can correct a structural abnormality in the feet? Custom orthotics are unfortunately not going to provide a permanent correction, either.
We have had a fair number of patients return to us with heel pain symptoms again long after their initial treatment, and one of the first questions we ask is, “Did you stop wearing your orthotics?” The answer is almost always yes.
And when the answer isn’t yes, chances are likely that their current pair of custom orthotics have worn out to the point of no longer being effective.
Regular refurbishment and replacement of custom orthotics will help you yield the best results from them. The good news is that many insurance plans allow for a free pair of orthotics each year. Even if your current pair is still working fine (most are durable enough to last up to a couple of years or longer), there is no reason not to get another free pair for other shoes you own.
Find the Heel Pain Relief You Need
Custom orthotics are just one potential treatment for heel pain. There are other potential routes to relieve we may consider in addition to or instead of orthotics, including stretching, lifestyle changes, and even advanced laser therapy, among others.
In every case, we will never make recommendations for heel pain treatment until we’ve had the chance to fully examine your condition and learn all we can about how your symptoms are affecting your life. We want to make sure we get the best course of treatment right for you the first time, whenever possible.