Are foot orthotics worth it?

A consumer’s guide to the science and controversies of orthotics, special shoes, and other allegedly corrective foot devices.

Footprints in the Sand. Pruzi Pixabay

by Paul Ingraham, updated Sep 23, 2018

Readers often tell me that they think they “might need orthotics,” but they rarely know more than that. The idea is based on an uncertain hunch that something about the way they walk and run can be fixed with a wedge of just the right shape under their feet — which is all orthoses amount to, even the fanciest ones.

Custom foot orthoses or orthopedic footwear or modifications may be helpful for specific medical situations, but it’s probably only truly reliable for a single condition: painful pes cavus (high arches). Everything else is less certain, even quite obvious and common foot problems like hallux valgus (lateral bulging where the big toe meets the foot). With wise prescription and skilled crafting, many people will be helped, and many will not.

The good news is that there are some more reliable sources for these products and services: Certified Pedorthists (CPed) and Certified Orthotists (CO) are the professionals that I recommend. Unfortunately, most consumers have never heard of them and don’t know why they are the best choices, or where to find them… and many therapists won’t refer, because they want to sell you orthotics themselves.

The entire question of orthotics can be answered reasonably well by keeping your expectations pretty low — there’s just only so much that foot support can do for most people — and by consulting mainly pedorthists and orthotists. That’s the short story. But on this website we delve into these things…

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