Custom orthotics 101: your guide to a better gait

How well do you walk? It’s probably something you don’t really think about, but many of us actually don’t walk well. An incorrect gait (walking action) can put strain on many parts of our bodies, as we’re not walking with everything in alignment. In particular, our knees and ankles can experience excess strain, and that can lead to both muscle and joint problems, from plantar fasciitis (heel pain) to sore knees and tendonitis.

Orthotics and gait correction

The good news is, many gait problems can be solved by using orthotics. These are insoles that slip into your normal everyday footwear to correct your gait. Since everyone walks slightly differently, the most effective type of orthotics are custom-made for your feet. They support your feet and align them into the right position so that your gait improves, reducing strain and preventing soreness or pain. They can be half size or full length, and are available in various levels of stiffness, depending on your requirements.

How do I know I need orthotics?

Most people who come to Active Care Physiotherapy have problems with their feet, such as heel spurs, achilles tendonitis, plantar fasciitis, flat feet / fallen arches, or general heel and foot pain. Other patients are referred to us by their own physician or health professionals.

For those who have never experienced issues with walking before, it’s the symptoms they notice and wonder what the problem is. These may include aching feet, uncomfortable footwear, discomfort at work if standing a lot, sore feet after sports, or even just tripping over more than usual.

They are often very relieved to find that their issue is with their gait, and that physiotherapy and orthotics can often resolve the issue without the need for strong prescription medication or surgery.

What is plantar fasciitis?

Plantar fasciitis, or heel pain, is one of the most common foot related issues people come to Active Care Physiotherapy to resolve. The plantar fascia is a tendon that runs from your heel to the middle of your foot. It supports the arch of the foot and absorbs shock when you walk. When it gets inflamed, that’s plantar fasciitis. People who stand or walk for long periods of time at work on hard surfaces are particularly prone to it, so we see a lot of patients who work on production lines and in warehouses.

Custom foot orthotics can help solve plantar fasciitis and heel pain problems, and prevent them from reoccurring. First, we’ll work with you to relieve the symptoms and reduce the inflammation. We may use temporary strapping/taping at this time to help you feel more comfortable. Once any swelling has reduced, we’ll assess and measure your feet for custom foot orthotics.

Once made, your custom-made orthotics can be slipped into your normal work boots, safety shoes or any office footwear or sporting shoes, to improve your foot alignment and make your feet a lot more comfortable.

How are orthotics fitted?

All custom orthotic fittings start with an examination of your feet and an analysis of your gait. We’ll check how you stand, how you walk, how your joints move, and how balanced you are in both your shoes and in bare feet. We’ll then take detailed measurement and an impression of the soles of both your feet, which form the mold for your new orthotics.

Once your orthotics are made and delivered to us, we’ll ask you in for your fitting. We’ll check the fit, and make any minor adjustments required with small additions on the structure of the orthotic, known as ‘posting’. Then, you’re good to go!

When should I wear my custom orthotics?

We suggest you wear your orthotics for an hour for the first day, and gradually increase the amount of time you wear them over a period of at least two weeks. Our patients are often surprised at how their body reacts to new orthotics, as they are standing up straight and walking well for the first time in years.

You may find, for example, that your knees or feet get tired and you notice the muscles around your joints feeling slightly under strain. This is perfectly normal, and is just the process of your body making its own adjustments as your feet realign. In addition, we might ask you to come back for a check on your orthotics a month afterwards, just to ensure you have the best fit. Then you can wear them all day, every day, in whatever shoes you wish.

Having said that, you may need to remove foam padding from the sole of some recreational sports shoes, trainers and sneakers. Many of these now come with ‘orthotic foam’ inserts that are usually not much more than extra padding. We may advise that you remove this layer (it usually comes out very easily) and replace it with your own full foot orthotics.

How long do orthotics last and when should I replace them?

Every patient is different, but we recommend you have your orthotics checked every year to ensure they are still providing sufficient support. You might need them adjusted earlier as your body realigns, or if you are particularly “tough” on shoes (i.e. you wear them out faster than average). If in doubt, just call us for an appointment, and we’ll check the fitting, and advise if you need new ones.

Orthotics for sports

Custom foot orthotics can make a considerable difference to your sporting performance whether you are a track athlete, play football or ice hockey, or enjoy curling. Each sport puts particular strains on the feet. By adjusting the alignment of your foot using custom orthotics made for your sport, you can feel more comfortable and perform better with less strain. Call us with your particular requirements, and please bring your sports shoes/boots with you to your first appointment.

Still not sure custom orthotics is the answer?

Thanks to modern heat-responsive materials, improved measuring techniques and (we hate to say it) the negative effects of cheap footwear, the public are a lot more aware of the benefits of custom orthotics than ever before. Chances are, you’re working or competing alongside folk who have worn them for years. Custom orthotics are quite different to over the counter insoles you can buy at a pharmacy, which are mass produced for ‘standard’ feet and won’t necessarily address your particular issue. (We’ve never met anyone with ‘standard’ feet anyway!)

Technology and expertise combined

At Active Care Physio, we take time to examine your feet, listen to your issues, assess your gait and measure your feet in great detail. Every custom orthotic is therefore created using a combination of our years of experience and the best solution for your issue. If we don’t think you need them, we’ll tell you. If we think the issue is due to something else, we’ll refer you to a specialist in that area. If the custom orthotics we create don’t fit as well as you’d like, we’ll adjust them until they do.

That’s why many of our patients who wear custom orthotics come back to us year after year to have them replaced. They trust us with their feet, and we in turn give them the best service and expertise we can, every visit.

Book an orthotics appointment with us

If you want to see if orthotics can help you, call us and make an appointment at either our London or Ingersoll clinics. It’s the first step in more comfortable, less stressed feet!