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Q&A: Orthotic Inquiry

What are orthotics, and how do I know if I need them?


Foot, ankle, lower leg, knee, hip, and lower-back problems are often treated with orthopedic appliances called orthotics. Prescription orthotics are medical devices inserted into shoes to correct an abnormal or irregular walking or running pattern. Orthotics work like shock absorbers to remove pressure and stress from painful areas in the feet and ankle and promote the proper alignment of the feet. They permit the muscles, tendons, and bones of the feet and lower legs to function at their highest potential and improve the shock-absorbing capability of the feet, thereby reducing wear and tear on the entire body.

Orthotics are prescribed to provide support, prevent deformity, and relieve pressure on certain areas of the foot. They can restore balance and improve sports performance and are often prescribed by sports medicine physicians to reduce excessive force in the knee, hip, and lower back. Prescription orthotics also provide relief from pain in the heel, Achilles, metatarsal, bunion, and arch. Orthotics help reposition the structures in the foot to optimize biomechanical function and reduce the chance of injury, particularly in injury-prone foot types such  as high or flat arch.

Prescription foot orthotics are similar to prescription eye glasses, as every orthotic must be tailored to meet the patient’s specific orthopedic needs. Prescribing orthotics takes into consideration many factors such as foot type, biomechanical evaluation, level of activity, age, and participation in specific sports that often put unique stresses on the foot and lower extremity. You should consult with a podiatrist to determine whether you need orthotics.



Dr. Rock Positano

Dr. Rock Positano is a podiatrist and director of the Non-surgical Foot and Ankle Service at Hospital for Special Surgery. He is nationally known for his non-surgical approach for the treatment of foot and ankle disorders. He is the author of Disorders of the Heel, Rearfoot and Ankle and the author and editor of Foot and Ankle Sports Medicine, which is being published in January 2013.

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