What is the Difference between Custom Orthotics and Arch Supports?

“Hi this is Dr. Silvester and I want to talk to you a little bit today about a question that comes up in our practice not infrequently and that’s, “Do I need orthotics?”

First of all, let me define what an orthotic is. An orthotic is not something that you buy at a store. Any store. If a store is telling you that they’re selling you a custom orthotic what they’re really selling you is an over the counter arch support. I’m going to show you the difference

I’ve got a couple of examples here right next to me. First of all, this is an orthotic. This is a device that is custom made for my foot. It was made on a mold – an impression of my foot that was sent off to a fabrication plant where the device was manufactured and then sent back. This device fits me and probably nobody else, unless they have a very extremely close example of my foot. So that’s what an orthotic is.

This is an over the counter arch support. This is something we use all of the time in our practice. It shouldn’t cost more than about $50 or $35. If you go to someplace where you’re buying something that’s off the shelf where they give it to you that day – unless they’ve got a manufacturing plant there, it shouldn’t cost more than $50. If it does, just tell them to go ahead and keep the device and get some professional help where you can really get a custom orthotic that’s made for your foot.

Another thing I wanted to tell you is that different orthotics are made for different purposes. You wouldn’t give a person who’s on their feet 6 hours a day the same orthotic that you would give someone who works at a desk and has to wear dress shoes. You wouldn’t give the same orthotic to a patient with diabetes where you’re trying to offload a certain location of their foot to decrease the risk of a pressure sore or an ulcer as you would an athlete who runs 15 miles a day and wants to compete in a marathon.

Those are things that have to be taken into consideration when making an orthotic for a patient. What happens is that you need to first of all evaluate the patient. Decide what they’re going to do, how they’re going to do it, what the intensity of their activity level is, what kind of shoes they wear and then based on that, you try to design the orthotic that’s going to work for that patient.

What really is the mechanism of how orthotics work is that they change the earth so it fits your foot. It puts your foot in a better mechanical position to control symptoms. An arch support can do that to some degree, because a lot of times all a patient needs is a simple support in their shoe to help control their symptoms, and that’s all that you need and that’s fine. Save your money, use that.

In some cases, that’s not enough, and you need to use real mechanical control to try to put the patient in a more functional position to control their symptoms. Now, one mistake people make is they think an orthotic is going to solve all of their problems. That’s not true. Orthotics generally make things better. They don’t really solve all of the problems. Sometimes your body just – you’re wearing it out. You’ve got some serious conditions that need further attention.

Regardless, orthotics are a critical weapon that we use in battling heel pain for our patients and I just wanted our patients to be aware that there are orthotics and there are arch supports Stay away from people who are trying to sell you an over the counter arch support for $300-$400, there’s no reason to spend that much money.

If you have foot pain, give us a call here at the Next Step Foot and Ankle Clinic. We can probably help you and we can tell you whether or not you specifically need an orthotic. Thanks for listening!”