An orthotic is a vital piece of equipment for those who wear them. They provide support and comfort when running and playing sports. They also help people get through their day outside of sports and exercise.
One of the biggest misconceptions is that orthotics should only be used for exercise and athletics. This couldn’t be further from the truth! The function of an orthotic is to provide support to the foot to allow the lower extremity to work more efficiently. For that reason, wearing them only for exercise puts you at a disadvantage.
Muscles have memory and enjoy consistency. If you only wear an orthotic for exercise, that only accounts for 10% of your day…maybe even less! Think about it this way: Let’s say you could only use your car 10% of the time, but you had to walk the rest. You’d be pretty tired, right? So think about your feet and legs only being allowed to work at peak performance for that same short time.
To make it easier to wear an orthotic throughout the day, they can be made to fit an athletic shoe, dress shoe, women’s high heels, western boots…anything where the heel is closed in. For those who enjoy a more open shoe, some sandals, such as Bite, can accommodate an orthotic. Other sandals, such as Birkenstock and Naot, can be custom made with an orthotic built in.
There are many factors that determine the useful lifetime of an orthotic. The first is the material the orthotic is made from. In my Houston podiatry practice, the orthoses we fabricate are made a firm plastic material. Because this material is durable and wears very little, the orthotic generally lasts about four to five years. Softer materials, such as cork, leather, and foams, will deform with time and has a much shorter lifespan of one to three years, depending on how it is constructed.
Another factor is your activity level. A marathon runner is harder on their feet than a “weekend warrior.” The foot is dynamic and must change with every step and manage forces. So the foot changes with time and those who are more active notice quicker and more dramatic change. This will require a change in orthotics sooner, simply because of a change in mechanics.
Finally, there are other issues that will cause an orthotic to be replaced. A major joint replacement, such as a knee or hip, will alter the mechanics of the lower extremity significantly enough to warrant a new orthotic. Generally, I wait six months for the joint to “settle in” until I move forward with evaluating for a new orthotic. Many women see changes in their feet and mechanics during and after their first pregnancy. This will occasionally require a reevaluation for new orthotics.
And let’s not forget about our household pets. If your puppy chews up your orthotic – we’ll need to replace them then too!