Before we dive into this conversation I think it would be best if we just have a recap on what exactly orthotics are, what they do and how they could potentially help people with plantar fasciitis.
Orthotics - A Recap
Orthotics are prescription medical devices.
They are custom orthopedic devices that are designed and developed with the aim of relieving or supporting movable parts of your body. They can be used for almost any extremity but are most commonly used for lower leg and foot ailments. Orthotics can brace, align or prevent conditions that would otherwise hinder someone or cause them significant pain or discomfort.
This is a snippet from a previous piece we did on a similar topic, if you haven’t read that article I strongly encourage you to go ahead and do so now.
In a nutshell, orthotics do one of two things:
Now that you are all caught up, let’s discuss how foot orthotics can help you with plantar fasciitis.
Foot Orthotics and Plantar Fasciitis
Plantar fasciitis is a condition that can be caused by a range of underlying issues or causes. One of the more prominent causes remains your foot posture or inadequate support within your feet. People with flat feet, collapsed arches or poor footwear usually develop plantar fasciitis due to one of these reasons.
We should add that this isn’t exclusive to runners or athletes. Plantar fasciitis can affect any person that walks a lot on a daily basis or spends most of their day on their feet. Regardless of how you develop plantar fasciitis, one of the most frequently recommended interventions are orthotics.
As we previously mentioned, orthotics are orthopedic devices that are in most cases, prescribed by a medical doctor or a podiatrist (a doctor of podiatry more commonly known as a foot doctor).
The aim of these devices are to try and provide arch or heel support or stability in an effort to offset the underlying issue causing your plantar fasciitis. They are custom made for your specific needs. And it is these needs that brings us to our main topic today.
What Type of Foot Orthotic Works Best for People Suffering from Plantar Fasciitis?
Orthotics can technically be anything and everything you want it to be. Since these devices in almost all cases are customized to a specific individuals’ needs they tend to look and more importantly, feel completely unique. They can span the length of the foot or just cover the heel area.
Similarly they can be made of a very hard material or be almost jelly-like in consistency. It all depends on your situation. Now granted we are aware that in most cases there remains significant overlap between people who struggle with plantar fasciitis. So yes, orthotic devices can look and or feel similar but it will never be 100% identical.
Three Types of Orthotics
Despite the uniqueness of foot orthotics and whatever degree of overlap they may or may not have with the next person. There is one fact that remains universal, all orthotics are categorized as either:
- 2Semi Rigid
- 3Soft Orthotics
Regardless of their shape or specific look they will always fall within one of these categories.
Rigid orthotics are as you can probably tell, made of the hardest materials. They are usually made of some form of special plastic or carbon fiber material. Rigid orthotics are used to provide stability between or to joints. Because of their very hard make up they tend to last forever and rarely ever break.
On the other hand, semi-rigid orthotics are used to bring about balance and support during movement. Which is why this type of orthotic is most common in people who partake in sports. Semi-rigid orthotics are made of multiple layers of soft and hard materials.
Last but not least we have soft orthotics. These devices are really completely different from the rigid and semi-rigid versions in its design and its function. Soft orthotics are used for deloading affected areas. They absorb and dissipate force and load as well as provide form fitting balance and support to the affected area or areas.
Soft orthotics are made of materials that can be compressed and almost elastic in nature. In order to absorb the repeated forces and loads it needs to be able to withstand.
All in all, the type of orthotic you receive will be determined based on your individual needs.
Just for clarification…
Orthotics are not generic insoles. Insoles are mass produced inserts designed to replace the standard inserts that come in your favorite pair of running shoes. They do not take into consideration your foot posture during stance or during gait. They don’t compensate for any specific size, length or structural considerations.
Insoles are available over the counter and usually do not provide enough support to be able to alleviate or prevent chronic plantar fasciitis.
Our Verdict on Hard Vs Soft Orthotics in People Struggling with Plantar Fasciitis…
As you’ve probably surmised from the information above, soft orthotics are used to treat and manage plantar fasciitis. Their softer and compressible material make them ideal for customization.
Therefore, your prescribing physician or podiatrist will require you to do an assessment that would get a foot mold made as well as identify your specific gait pattern. They will go ahead and use this information to design and produce your custom foot orthotic. Making them ideal to treat and manage your plantar fasciitis both during day to day use as well as when you are training.
A bit of a heads up!
But just like with everything in life, orthotics aren’t perfect. They aren’t for everyone and can in some cases cause more harm than good. Therefore it has always been our opinion that you should always phase orthotics into your life.
Perhaps start with just wearing them during the day allowing your body and its biomechanics some time to adapt to the disruption of your body's natural flow. Eventually progressing to training sessions with the orthotics. A sudden disruption to your biomechanics can lead to both minor and major injury. So please, be cautious of this fact.