Taking a Closer Look at Orthotics for Heel Pain

Jun 28, 2019

Every case of heel pain is unique.

It sounds cliché, but it’s the truth. After all, no two people have exactly the same foot shape. And no two people live exactly the same lifestyle.

As a result, the precise mix of underlying factors that contribute to your pain can vary, as do the specific diagnoses—plantar fasciitis, tendinitis, stress fractures, and more. And that means the best treatment method (or, more likely, combination of treatment methods) varies as well.

This is something we’ve written about in the past, of course. You might consider our blog outlining 9 great treatment options for heel pain. Yeah, you heard us. NINE.

These treatments range from simple rest to advanced shockwave therapy. But today, we want to zero in on one option in particular: orthotics.

So What Are Orthotics, Anyway?

Glad you asked.

The short answer is that orthotics are specialized inserts that take the place of the ordinary stock insoles in your shoes or sandals, in order to give you better comfort and support.

Now, before you rush out to the grocery to buy the first flimsy “orthotic” you can find off the rack, hold up a minute. There are basically two types of orthotics that we recommend to our patients with heel pain (or any foot condition, for that matter):

  • “Custom picked” orthotics. Like what you can find in the grocery store, these orthotics are prefabricated, and they are cheap. Unlike grocery store inserts, however, they’ve been pre-selected by actual foot and ankle experts (namely, us) to be of much higher quality, durability, and effectiveness than what you’d get picking almost at random.
  • True custom orthotics. The top of the line. Custom orthotics are built especially for you, using a mold and/or scan of your feet that we take in our office. While you can often get nearly equivalent performance out of an inexpensive “custom-picked” orthotics for mild-to-moderate heel pain cases, true custom orthotics may be necessary for more severe conditions.

(If you want to learn even more about this, we recommend you check out our custom orthotics and arch supports service page after reading this blog.)

How Orthotics Can Help with Your Heel Pain

Here’s what it really comes down to.

See, in a large percentage of heel pain cases, there’s a fundamental disconnect between the feet you were born with (or, through years of wear and tear, the feet you currently have) and the world we all live in.

Heel Pain

In ideal circumstances, your feet are meant to provide a full day of comfortable activity—standing, walking, playing, etc. And their core structural elements are designed to do this for you. For example, the fatty pad on your heel provides impact cushioning, while the arch naturally flexes to spread out the weight and pressure of each step across a wider area and longer length of time.

But, as is so often the case, reality doesn’t always play out as nicely as the ideal scenario.

For starters, not every foot structure is “ideal,” or equally good at absorbing and dampening impact forces to the heel. Flat feet, or even excessively high and rigid arches, can both shift a whole lot of extra weight right to the heel.

Next, there’s this modern lifestyle. Our ancient ancestors didn’t have to endure the constant onslaught of concrete, tile, hard wood, and other completely inflexible surfaces we spent the vast majority of our days standing and walking upon!

As a result of these factors, most of us need a little extra help from our shoe gear in order for our imperfect, constantly-under-assault heels to get through the day unscathed.

And even the right shoes alone may not be enough for some feet. Any good pair of shoes will come with a “stock” cushioned insole that provides arch support. But obviously since these are mass-produced, they are only designed to approximately fit an average foot structure.

If your foot structure is not “average” enough, in other words, the default insoles just aren’t going to cut it.

And that’s where orthotics come in. We’ll swap out the stock insoles and swap in appropriately selected or customized orthotics. Now, your feet will start getting the support and cushioning that they actually need, based on their unique shape, structure, and biomechanical characteristics.

Custom Orthotics vs Other Heel Pain Treatments

Now, you may be thinking to yourself, “why choose orthotics and not some other heel pain treatment option?” After all, we did just tell you we wrote a blog listing nine treatment options. What makes orthotics different?

Well, first off, it’s really a false choice. We often prescribe multiple treatment methods for particularly stubborn cases of heel pain. So you might get a round of shockwave therapy and some stretches to try, in addition to a new set of orthotics.

But really, what makes orthotics different is that they’re a long-term solution that addresses the underlying causes of heel pain, so that your discomfort doesn’t return. (And it does this a lot less invasively than surgery!)

This is in contrast to more symptom-focused treatments like pain medications or injections, which can do a good job providing short-term pain relief but don’t do much to heal the injured tissues.

Even advanced treatments that do actually accelerate tissue healing—such as extracorporeal pulse activation treatment (EPAT)—won’t last forever if the fundamental cause of your heel pain is structural, rather than the result of accidental injury or errors in training. EPAT may still be recommended to help your body “get over the hump” and finally heal after a nagging injury, but the orthotics will keep it from coming back.

A good analogy here is thinking about orthotics like you would a pair of glasses or set of contacts. Yeah, you have to wear them every day, and that can be a little inconvenient. But put them on, and without actually changing anything about your eyes, your blurry vision is instantly transformed into sharp and clear sight.

Same deal with orthotics for your feet. They don’t fundamentally fix your foot structure, so you have to keep wearing them on an ongoing basis. But in our humble opinion, swapping them into a new pair of shoes every day before you put them on is a pretty small price to pay for long-term heel pain relief.

Trust the Foot & Ankle Center of Oklahoma for Your Heel Pain Treatment

Should orthotics be an important part of your treatment plan for heel pain going forward?

There’s only one way to find out—and that’s setting an appointment with an expert like Dr. Darren Elenburg. We see patients struggling with heel pain every day. We know how to find out what’s causing it, and we have more options for treating it then you’ll find in an ordinary podiatric clinic.

To schedule an appointment with our team, at either our Oklahoma City main office or our satellite clinic in Moore, please call us at (405) 418-2676 today.

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Oklahoma City, OK 73114

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