As long as we live under the laws of supply and demand, we will always see companies trying to provide alternatives to products and services that are “cheaper, but just as effective—or even better!”
In some cases, these items really can work out quite well. Sometimes you really are just paying more for a brand name, and a more generic product can provide a similar experience or fulfill the same exact needs for a much lower cost.
The same can also be said for certain medications. When generics become available for prescriptions, the cost goes down but the benefits to the patient often still remain!
So when chronic foot pain or a related issue comes up and custom orthotic inserts are recommended as a solution, we are not surprised when many begin to think of the inserts they see lining the aisles of their local store (or are right next to that cool-looking machine you can stand on).
But is a cheaper, over-the-counter orthotic option the same in this case as cheaper options for other treatments? That comes down to form and function.
What Are You Getting from an Orthotic?
While a medication’s effects are chemical, an orthotic’s effects are mechanical—and that makes a big difference.
An orthotic device is recommended when an abnormality in foot structure is causing pain or other problems. Perhaps you have heel pain that is being caused by flat feet. Another condition could involve diabetic ulcers that can develop due to excess pressure on a certain point of the foot. In still other cases, a foot deformity such as a bunion or hammertoe can be aggravated by pressure.
Orthotics help manage and treat these conditions by providing cushioning, support, and corrective guidance where it is needed. This can favorably change the way that weight and forces are distributed across the foot, as well as prevent abnormalities in gait (such as overpronation—rolling your foot too far inward when you walk).
The end results are often reduced or eliminated pain, or elimination of sores, calluses, and irritation from “hot zones” on the foot. But when it comes to bringing these effects to a patient, design is important.
One Size Does Not Fit All
The mechanical influence of an orthotic means it will be most effective when it is unique.
When we prescribe a custom orthotic, it is not in the same way that a medication is prescribed. While the dosage of a medication can be changed, it is still following a standard “recipe.” No two custom-made orthotics, however, will have the same shape.
The reason for this is rather simple: no two feet are exactly the same, either.
If the goal is to redistribute weight and provide better alignment of the foot structure, the best results will come from an orthotic that is designed especially for the needs of that foot. It will fit the foot exactly, and provide exactly the amount of cushioning and material needed.
We do this by creating a cast or model of your foot, and prescribing the creation of an orthotic insert in very specified ways. Even after an orthotic comes in, we may perform additional minor adjustments to ensure the device is doing the job right.
Over-the-counter orthotics simply don’t work this way. They provide a range of fits and consistencies, but nothing as specific as a custom-made set can offer. You can think of them more as an “IKEA”-style approach to foot support. They can provide a decent help for very minor occasions, but you should never expect them to address very specific needs.
Another similar comparison to over the counter orthotics can usually be found not too far away in the pharmacy: over-the-counter reading glasses. Can they provide some quick help when needed? Sure. Are they something you would expect to help you full-time? Certainly not. In fact, wearing them all day could cause strain if they don’t fit your eyes’ needs precisely, and the same can be said for over-the-counter orthotics!
But What More Comes with the Cost?
Yes, it is true that you will often pay more for custom-made orthotics than those available in stores. There are costs associated with designing anything to specific needs, and we feel the results are worth it.
However, in addition to results, you are also getting a greater deal of durability. Custom-made orthotics tend to last much longer than store-bought inserts. Depending on use, you may be able to go a year or two without needing a replacement. Conducting standard maintenance and refurbishing can extend the life of your orthotics considerably!
Many insurance plans can cover yearly custom orthotics, and we will work with yours to get you the best prices and options available.
Treatment that is Tailored to You
The best care for your foot and ankles is tailored to all your needs, including age, lifestyle, and other conditions. While custom orthotics provide the best fit for many, it might not be the specific treatment you need.
If you have been suffering from discomfort, you deserve to receive the best in personalized care. Call us at (208) 731-6321 to schedule an appointment at one of our offices in Twin Falls or Burley. If you prefer to contact us electronically, you can also fill out our online form and a member of our staff will respond.