What Are Custom-Made Foot Orthotics & When to Consider Wearing Them

Our feet have been supporting and balancing our body weight ever since we learned to take our first few steps. These complex structures are made up of 26 bones and hundreds of muscles, tendons, ligaments and blood vessels. Therefore, should anything happen to the structure or alignment of our feet, it can have significant consequences on our bodies. 

It is rare to find someone with perfect feet. As such, many people have tried using off-the-shelf inserts or prefabricated orthotics at some point to relieve their foot pain. And while these store-bought inserts can help alleviate pain resulting from everyday activities and provide better arch support and cushioning than your shoe can, they will not correct any underlying problems that may be the cause of your foot, knee, leg or back pain. 

Custom-made foot orthotics are special shoe inserts designed for you to help improve posture, correct any misalignment in the foot and alleviate pain. While there are several off-the-shelf variations, from cheap inserts you slip into your shoe to the more expensive “customizable” ones that mould to the shape of your foot while cooling, these store-bought alternatives may be no more effective than putting a bandaid on a broken bone. Custom orthotic devices adjust how the foot functions and distributes force by realigning the foot, whereas store-bought inserts will merely support your foot in its improper position. Thus, wearing improperly fitted inserts risks increasing your pain rather than relieving it.

Having custom orthotics can be a complete game changer when it comes to dealing with everyday pain. If you are tired of constantly experiencing pain in your feet, knees, legs or lower back, let’s dive deeper into why custom-made foot orthotics may be right for you.

Do custom orthotics actually work?

Custom orthotic inserts are corrective insoles often prescribed by a health professional to help treat problems in the foot, back, knee, etc. They are specially designed to help treat underlying conditions by readjusting how the foot functions and distributes force. As custom-made orthotics are created from a mould of your foot (while you are sitting or lying down), they provide support precisely where you need it most. So for many people, properly fitted custom orthotics are worth every penny.

Custom-made foot orthotics are most commonly used to treat and relieve pain in the heel and arch of the foot. They also help to:

  • Help to support flat feet
  • Correct an abnormal or irregular walking pattern
  • Prevent foot deformity or keep it from getting worse 

While orthotics are not a cure-all for foot issues, they do excel at helping to treat several foot conditions, including the following:

  • Plantar fasciitis — microscopic tears in the plantar fascia tissue that results in intense pain and inflammation along the bottom of your foot.  
  • Diabetes — nerve damage and poor blood circulation can lead to diabetic foot ulcers and other unnoticed slow-healing wounds.
  • Arthritis — often affects the joints, such as the ankle and metatarsal joints in the foot.
  • Metatarsalgia — pain in the ball of the foot due to supporting your weight when standing, walking and running.
  • Flat feet and high arches — a lack of or non-existent arch or too much of an arch.
  • Bunions and hammertoes — when your big toe is out of alignment, resulting in a painful bump or your toes are abnormally bent due to an imbalance of the muscles.
  • Neuroma — pain in the ball of your foot, most often in the area between the third and fourth metatarsal bones due to nerve entrapment. 

Custom orthotics can also help you heal if you have had surgery or been in an accident.

How to custom-made foot orthotics differ from off-the-shelf orthotics?

Your custom-made foot orthotics are vastly different from the off-the-shelf brand you can purchase in the store or online. While store-bought orthotics cost less, they are produced to fit the “average” foot. This can result in doing more harm than good because there is an extremely high chance that they will not fit your specific foot shape correctly and thus will not correct the underlying problem causing further foot pain or discomfort. Store-bought orthotics can even risk worsening any underlying problems or creating new ones. 

Custom-made foot orthotics are created by taking a mould of your foot that is then sent off to a laboratory. Trained technicians then create a pair of custom-made orthotics based on the provided prescription from the health practitioner.  

If you find yourself questioning whether or not to purchase custom orthotics, we are confident that the relief you will experience from your custom-fitted inserts will make the price difference worth it. 

Are custom orthotics covered by insurance?

Most private insurance plans in Ontario will cover custom-made orthotics. However, you will need a prescription from a medical doctor, chiropodist, or podiatrist to be eligible and a diagnosis. Some insurance plans may require specific materials to be used when making the orthotics and for the device to be made from a 3D cast of your foot. Contact your health insurance provider directly to see what your plan covers.

What type of shoes can you put orthotics in?

Having the right pair of shoes to fit your new custom-made orthotics is essential as it provides a stable base for your feet. As such, putting them in a new pair of shoes that have not been stretched or broken in yet is ideal. The best practice is to take your new pair of custom-made orthotic inserts with you when you go shopping for a new pair of shoes. Try them in the new shoes and make sure they fit. Also, make sure your feet feel comfortable in the new pair of shoes with the custom-made orthotic inserts before purchasing.  

Here are certain features you should look for when buying a new pair of shoes for your orthotics:

  • Firm heel counter and inclosed heel
  • Firm and wide midsole for balance and support
  • Flexible outsole for better mobility
  • Minimal twist to ensure enough arch and base support
  • A deep enough toe box to reduce friction and pressure
  • Removable innersole or footbed

The wrong pair of shoes can affect the functionality of your custom-made orthotic inserts, so make sure you pay close attention to the shoes you are buying. You may also need to get shoes that provide a bit more room or depth for your inserts to avoid putting pressure on the top of your feet. Here are a few more tips to consider when searching for the perfect pair of shoes:

  • Confirm the shape of the shoe — check the product label or description to ensure that the shoe has the same shape as your foot. 
  • Double-check online labels or descriptions — when buying online, you cannot look at the physical item, so you need to ensure that the specifications match your orthotic device.
  • Verify the shoe size — some shoe sizing charts have minor discrepancies, so it is vital that you review their charts before purchasing shoes. 
  • Quality over price — focus on quality and specifications instead of the brand. You can find many great shoes for orthotics without breaking the bank.  

How long do custom orthotics last?

Something to keep in mind is that even custom-made orthotics need updating. Their materials begin to wear away just like the wear and tear you see in your everyday shoes, so you will need to replace them. Depending on the patient’s weight and lifestyle, custom-made orthotics should be replaced approximately every 1-1.5 years. However, some people may be able to wait two years as long as their custom orthotics are supporting their feet.  

How do patients get fitted for orthotics?

The first step is thoroughly evaluating your feet, ankles, and lower legs. During the examination, the health practitioner will come to understand where you are feeling pain and the type of arch you have while standing. The examination also includes a gait assessment to determine how you walk. The next step is to make an impression of your foot in a foam cast or plaster cast.   

After the 3D cast has been set, the type of material is chosen for your orthotics. With today’s orthotic therapy, most orthotics are fabricated from materials creating a semi-rigid orthotic that has some flexibility and provides cushioning support as necessary. The specific material used to fabricate the orthotics is determined by several factors, including the patient’s weight, shoe style, biomechanical need and the type of orthotic being made. Some of the most common materials used include plastic, carbon fibre, polyethylene and ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA) foam.

When the custom-made orthotics are ready for dispensing, the patient will come back to the clinic to ensure the following: 

  1. The orthotics fit the feet comfortably. 
  2. The orthotics fit the patient’s shoes. It is recommended to bring in two pairs of shoes at this visit.    

The patient is provided with an instruction sheet as to how to start wearing the orthotics for the next two weeks. The patient is then seen back in the clinic in two weeks for a follow-up. If there are any issues of pain or discomfort, the orthotics will then be sent back to the lab for specific modifications.  

At True Life Wellness and Physiotherapy, we can design your custom-made foot orthotics to fit your lifestyle and footwear preferences, from athletic shoes to high heels and anywhere in between. Call us today to book your consultation with one of our chiropractors.

Call and schedule your initial consultation with the friendly staff members at True Life Physiotherapy & Wellness, today.

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