Can orthotic devices help treat chronic heel pain?
Orthotics have, over the last decade or so, become far more common amongst our running community. I see more and more people using some sort of orthotic device as part of their daily or weekly training schedule. I see them at running clubs, in gym bags and even in some of our clinics. And if I am honest I was one of the people in the medical industry that actually advocated AGAINST orthotics that weren’t critical to someones’ ability to move. I am talking about orthotics used to treat severe leg length discrepancies or similar conditions that require similar intervention.
Why was I so against the use of these devices? Because up and until recently, I was of the opinion that they caused more harm than good. Let’s talk about it.
Now I need to stress that this is solely my personal opinion on this topic. And who am I you may ask? I am just an orthopedic rehabilitation specialist with over a decade of experience in this world both as a former athlete and now therapist. But I digress, what we will discuss in this article remains my personal opinion, nothing more and nothing less.
The side of orthotics devices they won’t tell you…
Orthotic devices, like any other external device do possess potential side effects or cons that contraindicate their efficacy for daily use. And this statement is based on the assumption that most orthotic devices aren’t properly diagnosed, designed and produced to fit the clients’ specific profile.
We’re talking about foot shape, walking style, running gait etc. All these are factors that need to be taken into consideration when prescribing and using orthotic devices to manage or treat your condition. Even more so when you’re dealing with persistent heel pain or discomfort.
Additionally, a Podiatrist (The foot doctor) or orthopedist should ideally be prescribing your orthotics. But unfortunately these providers and the services they offer aren’t always readily available or if they are they tend to be on the expensive side.
This leads to most people using a simple Google search and purchasing the highest reviewed item from their local supplier or Amazon vendor and bob’s your uncle and within 48 hours you have an OTC orthotic device ready at your front door. How convenient?
Unfortunately, the downside to this convenience is that you lose the customization aspect of orthotic devices.
Why I advocate for the use of orthotic devices as a treatment method for chronic heel pain...
The changing point in my thinking happened after I had a long conversation with a physiotherapist that was consulting at our clinic. The way she explained it, the depth of understanding she had on the topic prompted me to write this article. Because I quickly realized that I was allowing my own bias to between my patient and their recovery.
I once read a statement claiming that over a million people suffer from chronic heel pain each year. Of these people, 90 plus percent have had a plantar fasciitis diagnosis as the main cause of their chronic heel pain. Now, whether or not this statement is true it remains a scary number to comprehend. And that on top of everything I learned from that amazing consultant, was enough to change my view on these devices.
However, now I know that orthotic devices can help treat and manage chronic heel pain. There you go. Article done, see you next time! Just kidding, let’s go ahead and discuss:
Types of Foot Orthotic Used to Treat and Manage Chronic Heel Pain
In this category of orthotic devices there are two options that are mainly prescribed by health professionals as a treatment option for chronic heel pain, namely:
- 1Shoe inserts or insoles
- 2Heel cups
Shoe Insoles Vs Heel Cups
Shoe inserts, also known as shoe insoles, are full length orthotics used to treat plantar fasciitis and its related symptoms. Heel cups are smaller and shorter inserts that effectively cup the heel of the foot. The biggest differences between the two devices are the design and size as well as the purpose they serve.
How Do Shoe Insoles and Heel Cups Work?
Shoe inserts or shoe insoles are used to address functional and biomechanical issues of the foot. It addresses the foot as a whole and attempts to change multiple factors of your feet such as gait and arch shape.
Heel cups on the other hand are a bit more specific and localized in the sense that they address the heel area only. Hence their very creative name! These devices are designed to act and treat the main area of pain i.e the heel.
Shoe inserts assist your foot by providing stability, minimizing loads and allowing for more efficient movement. Heel cups are predominantly used to manage heel pain specifically by deloading the area and providing some form of cushioning to reduce your painful symptoms.
How Do I Know When to Use a Heel Cup Vs When I Need to Use a Shoe Insert?
The first question you need to ask yourself is: “Do I have chronic heel pain?”
Now chronic heel pain means that you have had persistent heel pain or discomfort for more than 8 weeks consecutively. If this is the case then you should definitely consider either a heel cup or shoe insert as a conservative approach to treating your condition.
So once you’ve gone ahead and answered that question the next question you need an answer for is: Where do I get a heel cup or shoe insert?
Although these devices are readily available online and in most local sporting goods stores and pharmacies, we always recommend that you consult a professional! In this case it would need to be a podiatrist, physical therapist or orthopedic specialist. These professionals can accurately diagnose your condition, give you educated opinions as well as properly prescribe the necessary orthotic to fit your specific needs.
Benefits of Shoe Inserts and Heel Cups for Treating Chronic Heel Pain
Our Final thoughts…
To answer your question, yes these devices can be used to treat chronic heel pain. However, we do feel that for treating heel pain as a symptom the heel cups are preferred. But if you want to treat the symptoms and prevent them from coming back, we do lean towards the full shoe insert or insole. Should you use them? Well, we”ll leave you to make that decision and given all the information we just shared with you, at least it will be an informed decision… We hope.