What are Orthotics?
Foot orthoses (also known as "orthotics") are custom foot supports. They are designed to fit your feet more efficiently than over-the-counter (OTC) arch supports and balance the biomechanical inadequacies of your feet and legs. I feel most people should try OTC arch supports first. However, while they will match some peoples' arches, others may find the support too high or low, or too far back or forward.
The most common reasons people use foot orthoses are for arch and heel pain (Plantar Fasciitis), lower leg tendonitis ( problem with the Achilles and posterior tibial tendon, and "shin splints") and for knee pain, such as chondromalacia patellae, iliotibial band syndrome and "runner's knee." Foot orthoses are made from casts or scans of the feet, and incorporate measurements of your foot and legs and limb length assessment, as well as your exact medical condition.
Most patients benefit from a thermoplastic device, but the flexibility and rigidity can be varied by the prescription. Most foot orthoses will last five to 10 years, and need to be changed if outgrown by one-and-a-half shoe sizes, or you have had foot surgery or other trauma to the feet, or if you have arthritis in your feet. Some insurance companies (not all) may cover a portion of treatment costs. The devices may need to be recovered every two to four years, which can be often done by a local cobbler or orthopedic shoe technician.
Although some people adapt to foot orthoses very quickly, you should gradually adjust to them by wearing them a few hours more each day. Regardless, you should not use them for extended activity, including sports, until you feel fully comfortable. The devices should be comfortable and used whenever you are doing the activity that would normally aggravate your condition. However, it is beneficial to also go barefoot for some period during the day when you are "healed" from the aggravating condition to aid in strengthening the foot & leg muscles. You may also develop blisters, which can be eased by applying Vaseline to hotspots or friction areas. If you need foot orthoses, they can improve your overall comfort in your lower body, including your feet.