In general, foot care specialists group orthotics into the following categories:
Functional orthotics are designed to support abnormal foot biomechanics. These devices, which often are made of supportive plastic polymer materials, prevent abnormal foot pronation (flattening of the arch) and reduce the impact load from the ground (shock absorption) while walking or running. Functional orthotics allow the foot to become a mobile adapter and a rigid lever. They support the rear foot or subtaylor joints, as well as the midfoot or midtarsal joints. This support stabilizes the foot and can help prevent repetitive overuse injuries. Functional orthotics are used to correct many foot deformities.
Accommodative orthotics typically feature a soft supportive device that is designed to relieve mild foot pain and correct minor foot problems. These devices often are used to correct biomechanical walking problems in young children. Accommodative orthotics include include splints, gait plates, and night bars (devices used to hold a child's feet and legs at a proper angle while sleeping) that promote corrective adjustment for excessive toe-in or toe-out walking. Braces may be used in infants to correct foot, leg, or hip abnormalities (e.g., metatarsus adductus, internal or external hip rotation problems).
Almost anyone, from children to adults, can benefit from orthotics. Orthotics can alleviate many common foot problems that cause pain and discomfort in otherwise healthy people. Orthotic devices adjust problems that can impair physical function. A physician performs a complete examination and then prescribes the proper amount of correction.
There are several common symptoms that may indicate misalignment of the feet. These signs and symptoms include the following:
Abnormal shoe wear (e.g., one side of the sole of the shoe wears out faster than the other)
Chronic heel (e.g., plantar fasciitis), knee, or low back pain
Frequent ankle sprains
Gait abnormalities (e.g., feet point inward or excessively outward during walking)
Shin pain (e.g., shin splints)
The feet should not hurt and pain indicates that something is wrong. If foot pain is not properly treated, the condition causing it may worsen. A properly designed orthotic controls how the foot strikes the ground, absorbs shock, and reduces stress in the foot. Orthotics provide patients with the support, stability, cushioning, and alignment necessary to keep the feet, ankles, and lower body comfortable, healthy, and pain-free.
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