From the minute you get up in the morning until you go to bed at night, your feet move and support you. Unsurprisingly, the feet and ankles are familiar sources of pain, and many wonder if poorly-fitting shoes are the problem. You should always have foot and ankle pain evaluated by a podiatrist to receive an accurate diagnosis. In some cases, shoes that don’t fit well or provide enough support cause or contribute to foot pain. Frequently, adding more support to existing shoes or getting a new pair can help relieve the pain.
Orthotic shoes contain a shoe insert that affords additional support, often relieving pressure in critical areas of the foot. These inserts are called orthotics and are placed in the shoe after the existing insole is removed.
Often when people think of orthotics, they picture a display of shoe inserts at the local store where they buy shoes. You might have tried these inserts yourself. Did they help with your foot pain? For some people, the answer is yes. But most people find these store-bought shoe inserts do little to nothing for their foot pain. For this reason, we often meet patients who say they don’t believe that orthotics would help them.
Here’s why this assumption is incorrect: Premade shoe inserts are designed to give extra support in areas commonly affected by foot pain or to provide a solution for the most common foot issues. They’re also made to fit an “average” foot. Unfortunately, many people don’t have an “average” foot and may not have pain in the areas the orthotic supports best. Another issue is that shoe inserts sometimes give you more support in an area that needs it but fail to offer enough extra support.
If you’ve spent time looking for shoe inserts, you may have encountered a large machine conveniently located next to the insert display, with a sign that promises to scan your feet and tell you what to buy. This often seems like a good idea for people confused about their needs. You step onto the machine, your feet are scanned, and the screen spits out a model number or name for the shoe insert that will work best for you. Sometimes an employee may help you match the number to one of the shoe inserts, but this person is not a doctor or foot specialist.
People who use these machines often find they don’t get sufficient pain relief, either. Usually, the scanning quality is reasonable, but the machine still has to match you up with one of the shoe inserts available for sale. This means that the algorithm recommends the closest match for your foot shape. However, for many people, the closest match is not very good. As a result, the insert may only help their pain slightly or may not help at all.
Custom orthotics are different than the shoe inserts offered in stores. Instead of trying to match your feet with existing inserts made for the average foot problems of “average” people, we create new inserts specifically for you. An experienced podiatrist will examine your feet and ask detailed questions about your symptoms, activity level, and lifestyle. This allows the doctor to better understand your needs. For instance, do you walk around a retail store all day at work? Do you have a job where you sit most of the time but enjoy hiking and running on weekends? Do you play a sport that puts a lot of strain on your feet? The answers to these questions help us make better recommendations.
We also scan your feet, but instead of having a machine try to choose the closest match, a foot and ankle specialist will review your scans. This step serves two purposes: An expert on foot health will determine your needs instead of an algorithm, and we can diagnose the source of your pain. In some cases, orthotics may not be the answer or may only be part of a necessary treatment plan. You might also need medication, physical therapy, rest, surgery, or other treatments. A foot-scanning machine at the mall won’t be able to create a comprehensive treatment plan the way a qualified healthcare professional can.
If the doctor diagnoses a problem that requires orthotics, they will create these just for you using plaster molds of your feet. Combined with the specifications for your support needs, these molds will be used to build the ideal inserts for your needs. Orthotic molds are made in the office, usually at your initial appointment, and the permanent orthotics will be ready in a few weeks. In the meantime, your doctor will provide temporary shoe inserts to help reduce your pain.
For the best results, you should start with shoes that fit well and are relatively comfortable, even if you still have foot pain. Orthotics can improve many aspects of wearing shoes, but there are some issues they can’t fix, such as:
We can make orthotics to go inside steel-toed work boots. Because the boot may rise up over your ankle, it could be difficult to get a full-length insert inside, but we can make one for your specific needs and boot size. ¾ length, streamlined inserts can also be used in high heels (providing the toe area is still wide enough to accommodate your feet).
For running shoes, orthotics usually work in trainers with a sufficiently wide toe box, a supportive heel counter, and good arch support. If there is little room in the toe area, you should probably replace your running shoes anyway – we recommend leaving a half-inch of space between the toe and the tip of the shoe when standing still. This accommodates the way that the foot moves when you run.
With other types of activities, you should generally use the type of shoe recommended for your sport. Ensure the shoe fits comfortably and that your toes have room to move around. If playing your sport aggravates or causes foot pain, your podiatrist will likely be able to make an orthotic for these situations as well.
It’s always a good idea to bring any shoes you spend a lot of time in when going to an appointment for orthotics. Looking at the shoes you have can help us understand some of the possible contributors to your foot pain. We will also determine if you would benefit from a better-fitting pair or if your current shoes will work well with orthotics. Always bring the shoes you wear most often, such as the ones you wear to work or on a typical day. Additionally, if you play a sport or exercise regularly, please bring the shoes you typically wear for your workout. Although physical activity is very healthy, some people do have pain from wearing unsupportive shoes while they exercise.
Dr. Elizabeth Auger is a skilled podiatrist who has helped people in West Jordan with feet and ankle issues for over 24 years. She completed her medical residency in foot surgery and wound care in Salt Lake City, then set up a practice in the West Jordan area. Dr. Auger is experienced in identifying and treating the root cause of foot and ankle pain and creates specialized orthotics as needed.
If you’re struggling with foot pain, please consult our office. Our administrative staff will be happy to help with questions and concerns. When you’re ready to make an appointment, we’ll find you the next available opening – in many situations, we can fit you in on the same day. We believe no one should have to live with foot or ankle pain, and we work hard to help you move comfortably.