How Do I Know if My Orthotics are Working?

Dr. Robert Parker
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Dr. Parker is a podiatrist and surgeon in Houston, TX who has been helping patients for more than 40 years.

Orthotics are one of the most versatile and effective tools we have to combat chronic foot pain. They can even relieve pain in the knees, hips, and back by restoring proper posture and biomechanics to your lower body.

But that's only true if you have the correct orthotics. If your pair doesn't fit your feet, you're not going to see much of a benefit. They might even make you feel worse!

Obviously, then, it's important to find the right pair, take good care of them, and come back for repair, adjustment, or replacement when necessary.

But how do you know if a pair is right for you? And what are the signs that you need your current pair adjusted?

Orthotics

 

The Short Answer:

The simple (and not necessarily wrong!) answer is simply about pain and mobility.

If you find that orthotics make your feet and body feel better—and allow you to be more active—then good news: they're working!

If pain continues or returns, something probably needs to change.

But that's a bit of an oversimplification. Let's dig into this a bit in more detail.

Adjusting to Your New Orthotics

Most people take a little time to get used to their new orthotics. This is especially true for people with fairly severe structural or biomechanical problems that are being functionally improved by their orthotics.

Since your inserts are fundamentally changing the way you stand and walk, it may feel unnatural at first. You may need to "re-train" your supporting muscles, ligaments, and joints to behave and react in a slightly different way.

When you get your orthotics from our office, we will often recommend a "break in" period lasting several weeks. You'll start out wearing them only an hour or two per day, and gradually work your way up to wearing them all the time, including during more vigorous exercise. The expected break in period varies based on the type of orthotics you're wearing, the nature and severity of your condition, and other factors.

The fit of your orthotics inside your shoes is also important. They should fit snugly in your shoes (after you remove the original insoles of course), but you shouldn't have wedge them in to the point that they're causing your shoes to stretch and bulge, either.

If your orthotics are too big they'll stretch out your shoes, and if they're too small they might slide around inside the shoe. Either way, they aren't going to be able to offer you the support you truly need.

The good news is that one pair of orthotics will often fit into several different pairs of shoes, especially if they're fairly similar. However, you may run into issues where your orthotics fits one pair (say, your running shoes) and not another (dress shoes).

If this is the case for you, stop by and see us—and bring along all the various pairs of shoes you need to use with orthotics. It might be the case that you'll need more than one pair of orthotics to fit all your shoes. However, we may also be able to adjust your existing pair so that it fits more different types of shoes effectively.

 

Signs Your Orthotics May Need to Be Adjusted or Replaced

So, let's say you've found a good pair of orthotics, and they have been providing you with good support and comfort.

Unfortunately, while custom orthotics are generally very durable—some pairs can last for many years with good care—they are not indestructible. Furthermore, your needs, and even your foot shape, may change over time, too!

Here are a few signs you could be due for at least a tune-up on your orthotics.

  • Your foot pain has returned. This goes back to the "short answer" above. If your orthotics aren't relieving your pain like they used to, it's a surefire sign that something needs to change. Foot pain is not normal!
  • Strange wear on your shoes. Your orthotics aren't meant to redistribute weight and pressure forces across your feet, and correct your realignment. If they are doing their jobs correctly, your shoes should wear down normally. Check the soles on an old pair that you always wear with your orthotics. If you notice any unusual patterns (for example, excessive wear along one edge, or one shoe wearing down faster than the other), your orthotics may be misaligned.
  • Visible defects. A scuff or two is probably no big deal. But if you notice your orthotics have more serious structural problems, bring them in for an evaluation. Examples include pieces that are cracked and broken, or places where the cushioning or frame has worn thin.
  • Major life events or other changes in your body or lifestyle. The way you walk changes over time. Your stride at, say, age 80 probably isn't going to look exactly like it did at 50, or 30, or 10. As your body changes, the needs of your feet (and thus your orthotics) may also need to change. Of course, the slow progression of time isn't the only possible culprit here. A more sudden development—think pregnancy, or hip surgery—can also bring about lifestyle changes that could force us to re-evaluate your optimal orthotics.
  • It's been at least a year since your last appointment. Now, again, simply getting a year older doesn't necessarily mean anything about your orthotics needs to change—especially if you still feel good wearing them. As we said, a good pair of orthotics may last several years! That said, we do recommend you get them checked on an annual basis. Often, we may make minor adjustments or refurbishments that can extend the useable lifespan of your orthotics while keeping them working at peak efficiency!

If chronic foot pain is plaguing you and making your life difficult, please come and see the team at Parker Foot & Ankle in Houston today. In addition to our custom orthotics, we work hard to stay on the cutting edge of foot and ankle medical treatments—including regenerative medicine techniques like laser therapy and extracorporeal pulse activation treatment.

Call us today at (281) 497-2850 to schedule your appointment with Dr. Parker.

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