Do Orthotics for Foot Injuries Really Work?

Laird Harrison

Disclosures

May 26, 2016

In This Article

Disagreement About Benefits

But not everyone is ready to hop onto the orthotic band wagon. Foot orthotics often don't correct the underlying biomechanical problems that cause the pain and dysfunction for which they are prescribed, says Heather Vincent, PhD, director of the University of Florida Health Performance Center in Gainesville.

"Orthotics are not a permanent fix, and they are not really necessary unless you have an anatomical difference, such as a leg-length deformity," she says.

Recent research has convinced her that people can reduce or eliminate their musculoskeletal pain by adopting movement patterns more like those for which the human body evolved before supportive shoes and orthotics were invented.

According to this line of thinking, shoes might cause much common pain and athletic injury by forcing feet into unnatural positions. Dr Vincent particularly cites narrow toe boxes and thick heels.

By the same token, orthotics can actually worsen the conditions they are meant to treat if they are worn too long, she says. "The foot doesn't have the full range of motion," Dr Vincent explains. "The bones and the muscle in the foot are not being activated the way they should, so the foot gets weaker and weaker over time."

Alleviating knee, hip, or back pain with foot orthotics might simply shift the stress to a different joint, causing new pain there, she says.

Some studies have shown that forces are distributed differently in people running barefoot compared with people running in conventional shoes, suggesting a greater risk for some common injuries.[10]

Researchers have documented weakness in various foot muscles in people with plantar fasciitis, suggesting that strengthening exercises might help.[11]

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