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Orthotics: Pre-Made Versus Custom-Made

The term orthotics is used to refer to a myriad of devices that are used to correct muscular and structural problems in feet by offering additional and corrective support. These devices are also used to re-align any part of the body through the feet, especially if the problems are caused by foot biomechanical misalignment and imbalance.

The foot orthotic devices are commonly used to correct a variety of low extremity problems such as plantar fasciitis. The devices offer the necessary support to the muscles and the fascia tissue, which relieves pain and enhances skeletal alignment as well as foot and limb function.

Orthotic devices can either be off the shelf or custom made

The type of orthotics you choose will depend on a range of factors. In most cases, it’s the chiropractors who decide whether to prescribe customized insoles or recommend off-the-shelf inserts depending on each individual’s case.

Off-the-Shelf/ Premade Inserts

These are one-size devices that can be inserted into shoes to offer support to the foot and relieve pressure off the muscles. They can be made of rubber, silicone, visco-elastic and even cork. Some come with arch build ups, others are flat. You can also get some off the shelf devices that contain rubber and fluid filled sacs as well as magnets.

Customized Inserts

These are foot corrective devices that are made to purposely suit an individual’s condition, and address specific problems. These inserts are made using the image of the foot, or a foot mold so that they address the particular problem at hand. They are especially suited for serious foot conditions such as excessive pronation or supination, as well as flat or high arches.

Which do you choose: customized or pre-made orthotics?

Let’s compare these two options 

Property   Custom-made Orthotics   Pre-made Orthotics
Price   They tend to be expensive since they are hand-made by an orthotic technician to suit the patient’s particular needs   Often affordable and available to anyone and offer the required foot support.
Conditions addressed   These are used for serious foot conditions such as supination, pronation, fallen and high arches, heel spurs as well as foot injuries that result to spine and pelvis problems   They are used for mild foot conditions such as heel pain, and to provide support when exercising.
Effectiveness   Since they are made purposely to address your condition, they are effective in all cases   These are best used to give support and extra cushioning but are rarely effective in serious cases
Size   They come in the perfect fit for both your feet and your condition   These are available in relatively one fit so you may need to trim it to fit your shoe
Material   They are made of leather, cork, high-tech visco-elastic material, polypropylene, carbon fiber, rigid plastics.   They come in rubber, cork, fluid-filled sacs, viscoelastic, and silicone. Some of these inserts come with magnets as well.
Availability   These can be hard to get since they require the services of an experienced professional to make, which may take some time and money   These are easily available off the shelf in stores and supermarkets. Additionally, there are countless online stores that stock these inserts.
Use   These inserts are customized to fit in any shoe: flats, high-heels, loafers, ski-boots, ice skates, sports shoes, sandals and pretty much any other shoe   These inserts are mainly used in loafers and sport shoes. They rarely fit in high-heels, sandals, ski shoes or ice skates.

In Conclusion 

Every individual is different: there are those that respond exceptionally well to pre-made inserts while others find relief with customized inserts. Those who respond well to off-the-shelf inserts are usually considered to have classic foot shape. This means that they do not have any biomechanical or substantially asymmetrical feet. The inserts, therefore, are primarily used to provide shock absorption.

There are people who have biomechanical problems, which make it impossible for the store inserts to address their imbalanced feet. For example, if the purpose of a shoe insert is to address pronation, structural imbalance, or provide spine and pelvis support, customized inserts are required.

While customized shoe inserts are expensive and they may not be immediately available when needed (it takes some time to make them), they are the best solution for long term relief to serious foot conditions. The lucky ones who get the choice of pre-made orthotics have reported almost immediate relief, reduced recurrence of symptoms, fewer consultative visits to the orthopedic and a healthier life. 

Your choice of orthotic will depend on your particular problem. It is not advisable to self-prescribe the inserts as they can worsen your condition. It is important to consult an orthopedic in order to get the right device for your condition.

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