Begin a search for “orthotics,” and you will find any number of solutions made specifically for the foot and the ankle. However, orthotics or orthotics bracing exists for a much longer list of limbs and issues, and though standardized orthotics may do the trick for the mildest complaints, it is custom orthotics that make a world of difference to someone suffering pain, discomfort, or limited mobility.
What Can Orthotics Be Used to Treat?
It might astonish you to read that custom orthotics solutions exist for:
- Ankle and knee sprain
- Arthritis patients
- Bicep tendon ruptures
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Compartmentalized knee issues
- Elbow and shoulder issues
- Facial injury
- Flat feet
- Knee complaints
- Ligament injuries
- Nasal fracture
- Orbital fracture
- Post-surgical injury
- Rotator cuff tear
- Shoulder issues
- Spinal conditions
- Wrist issues
As you can see, they can be used to relieve certain body parts of pressure or give them some strengthening support after surgery or post-injury. They are, typically used for only a short period, but if it is a chronic complaint (such as arthritis) or one that leads to pain if left unattended, a custom orthotic might be a long-term solution.
Naturally, their role in supporting healing and recovery is important, but that is not the only benefit to custom orthotics. They will also boost mobility and function. They will usually improve the patient’s quality of life on many levels because they offer pain relief and because they can even speed up healing and recovery. They are known, too, for reducing the overall costs of treatment because they directly address the issue that led to the use of the custom orthotics in the first place, and allow the patient to use the limb, move more fluidly, and live pain-free over the long term.
A Closer Look
We see that there are many issues treated with orthotics, but there are some fairly common “types” of orthotics used to address those complaints and conditions. They include:
- Ankle/Foot Orthotics – Bracing the foot and ankle, these custom orthotics are used to address a long list of injuries and issues. They are often used for those with chronic ankle sprains, foot deformities, paralysis, spasticity issues, and more.
- Foot Orthotics – They are the most commonly used style and address everything from over pronation and tendonitis to heel spurs, and much more.
- Knee/Ankle/Foot Orthotics – As the name implies, this is a large bracing orthotic that is often used for muscle weakness and paralysis. Used for post-stroke patients, those with spinal cord injury, and head injuries, they deliver a lot of mobility and boost overall quality of life. Common injuries that call for custom orthotics here include sprains, ligament tears, heel spurs, gout, Achilles tendonitis, shin splints, arthritis, and metatarsalgia.
- Knee Orthotics – They support the knee specifically and are meant mostly for stabilization after ligament or tendon injury. They are also used for those who don’t wish to undergo knee surgery, or want to at least put it off for a while. The custom knee orthotics can also be used for lateral compartment syndrome, injury to the PCL, ACL, LCL, and MCL, and hyperextension injuries. It is also common for those with runner’s knee, muscle strain, dislocations, osteoarthritis, and Schlatter’s disease to have custom orthotics.
- Hip Orthotics – This is meant to work in coordination with a knee brace, whether it is only knee or a combination brace. It prevents dislocation of the hip and is always custom made. The most common conditions that call for a custom orthotic are dancer’s hip, muscle strain, osteoarthritis, labral tears, bursitis and piriformis syndrome.
- Spinal Orthotics – Also called back braces, they support the spine for a number of different reasons. They can be extremely complex or very simple and streamlined, but most work to alleviate chronic pain, address arthritis, fractures, scoliosis, and muscle conditions.
- Wrist/Hand Orthotics – These are also widely and commonly used for pain relief, but are also ideal for injuries and conditions affecting the wrist and hand. They are used for carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis, sprains, and post-surgery. They support yoga practitioners as well, and provide an optimal level of mobility and stability. There is an immense list of issues and conditions that call for an orthotic here, including those listed above as well as sprains, fractures, arthritis, and dislocation. With over 100 ligaments and 27+ bones, the hand is very vulnerable.
- Elbow Orthotics – Pain and injury to the elbow are the most common reasons for use of custom orthotics of this area. Usually due to trauma, over use or heavy lifting, they are a good way to prevent the development of more serious hand and wrist issues like carpal tunnel syndrome. The most common reason you might require an elbow orthotic is tennis elbow, golfer’s elbow, bursitis, muscle strains, or sprains.
- Shoulder Orthotics – Some of the most complex stuff in the body is found in the shoulder. After all, it involves the neck and spine as well as the ribs, collarbone, arm, and shoulder blades. It has a whole gamut of ligaments and muscles, and so pain and injury here can be local as well as “referred” (spreading out to other parts of the body). The most common conditions requiring a custom orthotic for the shoulder are rotator cuff tears (pre and post-surgery), frozen shoulder conditions, unstable shoulders, bursitis, muscle strains, ligament tears, and arthritis.
Are Orthotics Alone Enough?
The experts at Healthline say that orthotics are often one part of a treatment regimen, and so a physician may combine a prescription for an orthotic alongside regular occupational or physical therapy. They might also prescribe anti-inflammatory medications and pain relievers to support healing and help boost mobility and strengthening.
Medical experts will usually combine treatments in this way, and rely on custom orthotics to do the traditional work of the individual’s muscles and tendons (and even the bone) until their bodies can handle it. For example, a patient with the condition known as overpronation may suffer knee issues because of the intense, inward rolling of the inside or arch of the feet. The orthotics can be used to address that flat-footedness and overpronation, but they will also be part of the treatment for knee replacement or knee surgery of some kind.
If you were wondering if their help is authentic, the experts would say that they are not a universal treatment. There are some with quite complex issues that orthotics alone won’t help, and which may provide only temporary support or relief. However, the prevailing belief is that they do help those with a long list of issues and conditions, and especially if the use is consistent and in line with the other therapies and modalities.
Dr. James P. Ioli, of Harvard University says that orthotics are recommended when “muscles, tendons, ligaments, joints, or bones are not in an optimal functional position and are causing pain, discomfort, and fatigue,” and that they should be made of the appropriate materials for the task. This is the only way to get the performance, results and pain relief desired.
Can Custom Orthotics Alleviate Pain?
The experts at PainScience have this to say about orthotics: “Foot, ankle, knee and hip biomechanics are complex. Extremely complex. It’s not rocket science — it’s actually much harder. And gait analysis is an art as well as a science… Orthotics should not be prescribed without a thorough examination,” and always by experts.
So, it is the professionally-made, prescription, custom orthotics that will serve the patient best. As that same pain group warns, “many orthotics sold to consumers may not be worth more than the clay the mold was made from.” In other words, skip that store in the mall promising that its amazing “foot scanner” or other “orthotics device,” will give you a medical-strength insert to alleviate pain during exercise or movement.
Dr. Ioli of Harvard agrees, saying that there are “three types of foot orthotics: over-the-counter/off-the-shelf orthotics; ‘kiosk-generated’ orthotics; and professional custom orthotics.” He notes that the first two are suited to only the mildest issues because they are usually sold based on such metrics as shoe size or by the “problem” such as “for arch pain,” or “for those with Achilles tendonitis,” and so on. He explains that they “may help with heel pain, lower back pain, general foot discomfort, or for a specific sport,” but it is the custom orthotics that are the most reliable.
As noted, the custom orthotics are the result of a thorough health history performed by a medical expert. They look at essentials like height and weight as well as most common activities, and then the medical conditions being treated. They consider the diagnosis and then choose from the best materials.
The most common are “rigid, semirigid, semiflexible, or accommodative, depending on your diagnosis and specific needs,” and it is the prescribing physician who will know the best for the specific complaints and concerns.
They take molds or impressions, providing a truly bespoke fit and function. The industry average turnaround time for custom orthotics is three weeks. Fortunately, there are some solutions that can provide fully customized orthotics in as little as 24-48 hours using inhouse production facilities.
Are Custom Orthotics for Everyone?
If you read through the list of conditions treated by custom orthotics, you would see that almost anyone might reach a point in their life when a custom orthotic can help with healing, recovery, performance, or pain relief. However, there are many who tend to benefit from them on a regular basis. For example, Dr. Ioli said that “people with diabetes who have loss of feeling in their feet, people with poor circulation, and people with severe foot deformities caused by arthritis,” really must pair with a good medical team and get the kind of support essential to healing.
Often, a premium therapeutic facility will look at custom orthotics as a way of offering a surprisingly rich continuum of care. For example, you might be receiving some sort of PT for an injury, and the person who does your treatment may also evaluate you and make your bespoke orthotics or order it for inhouse production.
Generally, medical experts will say that people of average foot type, average height and weight, and with one of the more common, or even “generic” issues (general heel pain, for example), can benefit from an over the counter or kiosk option. They can use them as “starter” orthotics in order to keep their initial expenses low. However, it is incredibly important to pay sharp attention as to whether or not the orthotics actually do provide relief. If they fail to yield any sort of comfort, or things actually worsen while using them, it is time to visit an expert.
Finding an Optional Solution
So, if you have any of the conditions itemized above or you just live with chronic pain in one of the limbs or areas identified, it could be a wise idea to visit an expert for an evaluation and a discussion about a custom orthotic.
They will perform a thorough evaluation in advance of any recommendations, and then use quality equipment to fit you with the ideal support for your needs. They take impressions, create a device, and ensure it is fitted properly. The team at Motus Rehabilitation can do this all in a 24-48 hour window of time. Their experts will provide you with your full evaluation and then custom make your new orthotic for you. That is not the end of your care, however, and you can rest assured that you will continue to receive the kind of healing attention necessary.
As a partner in the process of rehab and recuperation, you receive an optimal treatment plan that includes your therapies and training, but also any sort of supportive devices, including fully-customized orthotics that will be made quickly and inhouse, before being fitted and tested for function. Comfort and happiness with the orthotic is the goal, along with advanced healing and recovery.