We might not think about it too often (if at all), but our feet give us the opportunity to do so much. Sure, standing and walking—to say nothing of running and jumping—are a given, but we even rely on our trusty lower appendages to operate the gas and brake pedals in our cars.
Accordingly, it is a concern when medical or health issues cause pain or take away functionality in our feet and ankles. Fortunately, our office provides different techniques and tools to help you overcome pain and regain normal function!
An especially versatile and effective treatment option we offer for lower limb problems is custom orthotic management.
If you have foot pain (or certain other issues we’ll discuss shortly), a pair of custom orthotics might be the right solution for you. At the very least, orthotic management could be an essential component of the treatment plan that helps you start to recover from the injury or condition responsible for your suffering.
So why would we prescribe orthotics to a patient?
Well, a big reason for this is the fact orthotics can be used to treat—or as part of a treatment plan for—a wide range of medical conditions. A commonality amongst many sources of foot pain is they are caused in some way by either irregularities in foot structure or biomechanical processes – and in many instances the two (structure and movement) are related.
In the context of structure, one particular area of variance from person to person is foot arch height. Specific heights will vary on a foot-by-foot basis, but there are essentially three different kinds of foot arches – medium, high, and low. The most “normal” of the three is a medium height. Someone who has this kind of foot arch is likely going to pronate in a neutral, efficient manner and probably won’t have any issues from it.
Before we go further, let’s take a quick moment to get you up to speed on pronation. Pronation is a completely natural process feet undergo with every step. Basically, this refers to a roughly fifteen-percent inward rotation that takes place starting with the heel strike of a landing foot and proceeding through the final push of the toes off the ground. So why do we pronate? After all, do feet really need to rotate during the ground portion of a step? In short – yes, they do.
See, this is a very important biomechanical process due to the tremendous amounts of force we all place on our lower limbs.
The odds are pretty decent you aren’t aware of this, but when a foot lands and our weight shifts onto it, the actual force load is greater than how much we weigh. In fact, those forces can be as great as two times our body weight.
And that’s just when we walk! Running increases the force to as much as four times our body weight with every step.
All that force adds up, and especially when you consider the fact an average person takes 10,000 steps a day. (Whereas that figure might be skewed a bit by those who take considerably more steps than others—like runners, military servicemen, and servicewomen, etc.—even less-active people still take thousands of steps daily.)
Pronation is one of the ways our bodies are able to handle the cumulative physical strain. It disperses the forces in a fairly equitable manner – and this serves to prevent any one area from receiving more than its fair share (and hold that thought for a second).
Okay, now that we’ve covered pronation, it’s time to connect arch height, pronation patterns, and force loads, and then see how this all relates to orthotic devices! We’ve already established that arches of medium height generally result in neutral pronation. When foot arches are either low or high, it impacts this process.
Low foot arches flatten quickly after the heel strikes the ground – but it still takes time before the toes are going to push off the ground. Until they do, the foot continues its inward rotation. This takes it beyond the ideal “fifteen percent” mark. When a foot pronates excessively like that, we call it overpronation.
Conversely, high foot arches (cavus foot) start to flatten late in the process. As you might expect, this means they do not pronate nearly enough, and this is called supination.
Overpronation and supination might not sound like big issues—“The foot just rotates too much or not enough. What’s the big deal?”—but it’s important to remember the reason behind pronation – evenly distributing force loads.
Someone who overpronates ends up placing too much force on the inner edge of the foot, and especially the joint at the base of the big toe. With supination, too much force is placed on the outer edge of the foot. And this is where orthotic therapy comes into play.
Custom orthotics are devices we use to modify and control foot motion, including pronation. Depending on your needs, we might prescribe a pair that either restricts or promotes foot rotation.
There are two general categories of orthotics – functional and accommodative.
In the case of orthotic therapy for pronation issues, we will use functional ones to achieve our objectives. Functional orthotics are constructed from sturdy materials, which make them better able to restrict motion.
Accommodative orthotics are constructed from softer (yet durable) materials. These may be prescribed to help provide additional cushion for areas of the foot that need it.
The true advantage of using orthotics to treat foot conditions is that we customize these devices to your unique feet and gait patterns. No two feet are completely alike and we all have at least slight variances in how we actually walk. Custom orthotics can take those important factors into consideration – which distinguishes them from off-the-shelf shoe inserts at retail stores.
Just keep in mind – off-the-shelf inserts are not intended to treat a medical problem!
Something else that bears noting is, we do not prescribe custom orthotics for everyone who walks through our front door. Yes, these are versatile medical devices that can be tremendously effective for many different foot and ankle conditions – but each patient is unique and we assess their condition accordingly.
Remember, pain is not a normal state. This is actually an indication that your body is dealing with some kind of problem that likely needs attention; we can provide that. Call Preferred Foot & Ankle Specialists at (480) 497-3946 and give us the opportunity to put your pain to rest.
If it’s easier for you, please feel free to contact our Gilbert, AZ office online. You can either send us a message or make your appointment right now!