A Quick Primer on Orthotic Types

by | Dec 14, 2017 | Custom Orthotics

Insertable shoe insoles—generally called orthotics—can come in all kinds of sizes and shapes, and fit all kinds of different shoes. They can be designed to address any number of specific foot or ankle conditions. Orthotics can be made from a wide range of materials, from soft foam or cork to more rigid plastic or graphite. Some you can get off the rack at the supermarket; others require a prescription.

There’s no way to cover it all within the scope of a humble blog, but to help you wrap your head around the basic concepts, we offer this quick primer on orthotics types. Perhaps the three most useful ways to think about and categorize orthotics are as follows:

  • How are they made and prescribed?
  • What kinds of materials are they made from?
  • What are they designed to do?

We’ll take a look at each one of these in turn.

How Are They Made and Prescribed?

Orthotics fall into two broad categories: prefabricated orthotics and custom orthotics.

  • Prefab orthotics are insoles you can buy at the store or pharmacy, over the counter. You might have even seen ads for them on TV. They are mass produced to fit a variety of the most basic foot and shoe shapes. They can help with things like chronic pain.
  • Custom orthotics are prescribed by a foot and ankle specialist. He or she will evaluate your condition, measure your feet precisely (either by making a mold or a digital scan) and ordering a custom-made insert to fit your needs and specifications. As you can imagine, custom orthotics are more expensive, but they’re also far more effective for a wider variety of more serious foot problems.

What Kinds of Materials Are They Made From?

There’s a little grayer area here, but generally speaking we’re talking about soft, rigid, or semi-rigid orthotics.

  • Soft orthotics, like the name suggests, are made from squishier materials like foam, silicone, and the like. They’re great for dampening shocks and alleviating pressure, and can help with conditions like diabetic wounds, foot deformities, and arthritis.
  • Rigid orthotics are tougher and more inflexible, using materials like plastic, graphite, or carbon fiber. These are used when there’s a need to realign the position of the foot or regulate biomechanical motion.
  • Semi-rigid orthotics combine the cushioning of soft orthotics with the structure and motion control of rigid orthotics. They might be prescribed when you need both extra cushioning and biomechanical adjustment, or for younger and more active patients.

What Are They Designed to Do?

Rather than grouping by materials, we could also consider what the orthotics are designed to do—or in other words, the mechanism by which they provide the required pain relief. Here, the primary separation is between orthotics that accommodate foot problems (accommodative orthotics), and those that correct them (functional orthotics).

  • Accommodative orthotics are primarily concerned with soaking up pressure and friction and absorbing shocks. They don’t correct any biomechanical flaws, but they prevent those flaws from causing pain. As you might have guessed, the “accommodative orthotics” category is by and large the same as the “soft orthotics” category mentioned above. Almost all prefabricated orthotics are also accommodative, and many custom orthotics are as well.
  • Functional orthotics are designed to correct the abnormal biomechanical motion causing your foot or ankle pain—for example, preventing overpronation or stabilizing ankles. The semi-rigid and rigid orthotics fall into this category. Functional orthotics are almost always custom made and prescribed by a physician, rather than purchased off the shelf.

We hope this gives you a little bit more insight into how different types of orthotics are organized and categorized, and how they can help you with your foot pain! If you’re experiencing foot pain, you’re unhappy with your existing orthotics, or you need to get them adjusted, please call the Kansas Foot Center in Wichita today at (866) 222-5177.