About those orthotics…

I am now a former orthotics wearer. It’s been almost four full weeks since I have had them in any shoes, and there’s no going back for me. I know people’s sentiments about orthotics can be strong one way or the other. Me? I’ve now been in both camps–pro- and anti-orthotics. I’m not a doctor and don’t play one on TV, but I thought I’d share my experience and thoughts on the subject with you.

About three years ago, I got an almost overnight case of plantar fasciitis. Within about three runs after the onset, I was practically crippled by the pain. I couldn’t walk on my foot at all. After a few weeks, the pain subsided some, but not much. I looked into podiatrists in the area and went to the one that all the local runners recommended. He gave me the traditional advice–stretch it, ice it, etc.

Three months in, still no running, I had a cortisone shot and the doc fitted me for orthotics. I had temporary pain relief from the shot, but still no go on the running. Finally, at the six month mark, my podiatrist treated my foot with extracorporeal shockwave therapy and three weeks later, I could return to running. During the treatment, which is ultrasound guided, we found a partial tear in my PF, which explained why my case had been so severe.

The doctor told me that for the rest of my life, I would need to wear orthotics 24/7. This meant even a short walk to the bathroom in the middle of the night. No more cute shoes, no barefooting–ever! I followed this advice to a T. I hated it, but if it would allow me to run, it was worth it, right?

Then last year I developed some PF in my other foot. Nothing like the first case, but it was there, nonetheless. How was this possible if I was wearing orthotics, I wondered? It got me to thinking. Then I developed what you all know has been the ITBS from hell, which led me to the panel discussion on running injuries that I attended in January in Shepherdstown, WV.

It was a light bulb moment for me. I realized that my feet were atrophied shells of what they should be and that they weren’t going to get any better in orthotics. Did the orthotics contribute to my ITBS? No way to know, but I suspect they may have played  a role.

Right after the discussion, I contacted a podiatrist who had been on the panel and chatted with him about my orthotics. His thoughts on it? If I didn’t give up my orthotics, I would probably be facing recurring injuries for years to come. I had nothing to lose–I’m not running anyhow, so why not take this opportunity to ditch the orthotics and get my feet into shape?

So that’s what I’ve been working on and like I mentioned last week–my feet are so much better for it already. I had a couple of weeks of discomfort as my feet adjusted, but I am so happy I took this step. My take on this–orthotics are essentially braces. They may serve a purpose for a period of time. But forever? And 24/7? I really don’t think so. The human foot is designed to do its job, no braces necessary. Even if you are flat-footed, pronate, etc.–an orthotic is not a permanent answer.

What’s your experience/opinion of orthotics?

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  1. AM-GoalsfortheWeek! says

    Wow! What a post…I'm in your current camp at the beginning part where I'm an orthotics wearer and wondering if I need to be such a slave to em'.

    Will be watching your journey. And i'm gonna walk around the house for a bit barefoot this am;-)

  2. Running and living says

    I feel the same about orthotics. PF has a lot to do with genetics and aging. If you do a lit search on treatments for PF, you will find that no treatment is better than placebo. In most cases PF comes and goes, and people find something that works for them, to manage, bc it is a chronic condition. Doctors give patients orthotics or shot or ultrasound even though evidence does not show it works better than placebo; they do this bc they are uncomfortable saying "I don't know", and also bc patients demand a treatment.

    Since PF is chronic and it is not caused by trauma, it makes sense that you would want to treat it with activity (rest leads to athrophy and even more scar tissue, which is what you don't want in PF). In my opinions orthotics are just a panacea of modern medicine, and a way for companies to make a ton of money.

  3. 2 Slow 4 Boston says

    I've had to deal with some minor running injuries, but I sure am glad none of them were PF. Good luck in you PF rehab.

  4. BabyWeightMyFatAss says

    For $450 they were a waste for me. I don't wear them now. I do try to wear shoes more often and wear socks with more arch support when I don't have shoes on. I had the ultrasound treatment with massage therapy at PT. That was pure heaven though. lol. The other foot was getting jealous.

  5. Amanda@runninghood says

    I don't have any experience with orthotics so I don't know what to say but I'm really interested in hearing what others say and I learned from your post. Thank you. What is your take on stability shoes vs. neutral shoes? If I've always worn a stability shoe (but didn't know it), will it hurt me to start running some in a neutral shoe or will my feet adjust? I'm confused about all of this since I've never given it any thought before but I just ordered two different shoes from Mizuno..a stability and a neutral (the wave riders) and I don't know if I should try running in the neutrals for fear of injury. hmmm….I also want to try out the Nike Frees but it is the same thing keeping me from that…that i"ve had success with stability and don't want to mess a good thing up. Glad you hear you're feeling a bit better.

  6. Kerrie T. says

    Great post!

    So, I got shin splints and fractured my left one four weeks out from my first full last year. Got that? Hehehe. I am in custom orthotics now and training for marathon redemption. I pray they help me avoid injury so I can get through my first 26.2. After that, I'm not sure what I'm going to do.

    I don't wear them all the time — only when I run.

    I read Born to Run and I'm very curious about barefoot running or, at least, in a minimal support shoe. After my race, I may try it.

    Are you barefooting now? Minimal shoe?

  7. Marlene says

    It's a beautiful thing to know what works for you!

    Personally, I have always shied away from things like orthotics and knee braces and other supports… I just find that they don't FIX the problem and in fact make the body part that they are supporting weaker.

  8. Fran says

    I have never needed this so I can't say anything about it.

    What I do want to say is that I looked at your picture and want to tell you that you have a fantastic body, you look great!

  9. The Happy Runner says

    I am a former orthotics gal, too. I loved them when I first got them but then I switched shoes and now my feet, legs, hip are all so much happier. I run better, I swear.

    GOOD luck!

  10. Johann says

    I've never been pro orthotics but more a find the ideal shoe and running form type. Having said that, I'm lucky, I've never had problems with my feet and have been running with neutral shoes for almost 30 years now. I'm a natural mid to forefoot striker. All the best with your shoe/foot journey.

  11. Jogging with Fiction says

    I've been proscribed orthotics a couple of times, but I've never actually used them because I don't want the braces.

    I actually read this post aloud to my husband and he said he's done a lot of reading about orthotics and barefoot running (he's been running barefoot for about a year) and that what you're saying is exactly what his research has said. Orthotics aren't a permanent answer and, most of the time, drs aren't even sure why they work. Its a sort of guess and check system.

    I'm excited for you! Who wants to wear orthotics to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night???

  12. Detroit Runner(Jeff) says

    Never had any experience with them but I would agree with you. It's like my IT issue. I wore the band strap on my left leg for so long, it's like a crutch and I didn't want to run without it. Then my right leg started to have IT issues so I used my only band on that leg. What happened? I'm up to 12 miles without the band on my left leg. While I still think it works, I'm going to try and get off it as soon as I can so it does not become a crutch again.

  13. Silly Girl Running says

    In my opinion, you're making an excellent point here! With all the lower leg injuries I've been 'experimenting' with alternating my stability shoes/orthotics with minimalist shoes. Your posts on minimalist shoes made me feel more confident in my 'choice'. And I feel that my lower legs and feet are getting stronger. So, keep on experimenting. Lately I've been experiencing less shin pain in my Newtons than in my stability Asics (or my 'wooden shoes' as I'd like to call them ;)).

    However, I'm fully aware of the fact that some people just need orthotics, because their 'foot case' is severe. Fingers crossed that you and I are not one of them. :)

    I really hope that this is working for and making you a stronger runner. Sending nothing but positive vibes your way! :)

  14. Julie says

    This totally backs up what my chiropractor said when I was being treated for my tendonitis problems. Our feet weren't made to be babied like we baby them.

  15. Jason says

    I am so happy for you that you are working your way back and that eventually your road to recovery will be a thing of the past.

    I have never worn orthotics but I can say this about your post and it is something I believe in to a T.

    The human foot is designed to do its job, no braces necessary. Even if you are flat-footed, pronate, etc.–an orthotic is not a permanent answer.

    And I think this goes beyond the foot. I don't take any drugs at all. I go to the Dr once a year and that is for a physical. I don't want a prescription or a drug cocktail that will just be changed around in a few weeks. I believe the human body was built to cleanse and heal itself and all these other things are non-essential and mask the issues at hand.

    This is my opinion and while I have watched ER and Grey's Anatomy I am not a doctor either.

  16. Kim says

    I wear orthotics in my running shoes only. I don't ever put them in other shoes. I have this condition called Hallux Rigidus which is apparently more common than I thought, but it means that my big toe joint is arthritic and won't bend properly. It causes me tons of trouble. So, the orthotics are supposed to help on the runs. I don't know, I would have trouble giving them up… I do know that my toe problems will continue to deteriorate and I'll eventually have to have surgery, orthotics or not :(

  17. Paul says

    Orthotics…color me skeptical. Show me the data, I say.

    I'll never be a VFF or barefoot runner (…i think…), but less is more when it comes to running, IMHO.

    On the other hand, everybody is different so it's not like I'd shun somebody that liked orthotics 😉

    Anyway…key is to NOT BE IN A HURRY NOW..you have many many months of strength building to do…give it time…you want to run for the rest of your life..right?

  18. Char says

    That's really interesting. I was advised to get orthotics for ITBS but never got around to it. I strap my feet for running and it seems to do the trick . And after reading your post I'm glad I never did it.

  19. Gracie (Complicated Day) says

    I am with you 100% on this one. I was fitted with gigantic, clunky "stability" type shoes for overpronation, but since (oddly) I also have a very high arch I was given tall, stiff orthotics as well.
    The combo almost ruined my knees by preventing my perfectly normal, natural pronation (my shoes wear on the inside due to tarsal length, not over-pronation; essentially I have bunions!). The lack of rotation prevented normal bending of the knee, and I experienced severe pain and a damaged bursa. I have purchased successively smaller, lighter shoes since then and have piled on the miles with absolutely no pain. Even back to back marathons don't bug me.
    In reflection, I grew up going barefoot almost all the time. Why would I suddenly require so much extra junk when just me and my body had been fine for so long? The more I run, the more I favor the minimalist approach.

  20. SupermomE12 says

    I ditched my insoles just over three weeks ago. I haven't had issues with PF, but when I bought my first running shoes the shoe guy recommended insoles along with the stability shoes because I pronated, and I didn't know any better.

    now after getting educated I decided I probably didn't need the insoles and I moved down to a shoe with just a bit of stability. I am a midfoot/forefoot striker so I shouldn't need a whole lot of stability anyway.

    I did have some mild swelling and some soreness going cold turkey without the insoles (probably would have been smarter to adjust slowly) and there is still a bit of soreness, but I am running over 50 miles a week and the soreness is getting better and my feet and legs and hips and everything feel so much better.

    I hope this works for you! I have always been a huge fan of being barefoot at home and I only ever where shoes if we are going out or I am running. :)

  21. Lisa says

    I was also told to wear orthotics and tried them for a while but they made my feet hurt worse in most shoes. I can wear them in one pair, but that's it. I'm trying to build strength in my feet by walking around barefoot in our apt more often. It seems my running shoes with a little less 'support' than the ones I had before are working better.

    I hope things continue to get better for you!

  22. Michelle Simmons says

    I wore orthodics for about 8 years and then just threw them in the trash one day after a recommendation by a friend that I do so… leap of faith for sure but what a relief to realize that I did not need them after all! :)

  23. Happy Feet 26.2 says

    I have no PF history, but you mentioned "getting your feet into shape" I can't recall, do you do yoga? I ask because I think it is SUPER for strengthening the feet.

  24. Angie says

    I've never needed orthoics, but my sister has a heel lift orthotic because she runs on her toes so much. It really helped her when she was running competitively in college. I hope they work for you!

  25. Jess @ Blonde Ponytail says

    Wow! Big move…I think you could totally play a doctor on TV though. 😉 You are taking some bold steps to becoming a healthy runner again–so awesome! I haven't had a need for orthodics…yet and I think I will opt out if it ever comes to that!

  26. drkgood says

    I have an appointment this week to get fitted for orthotics. I have been going back and forth about whether or not I should get them. I have a bunion and some associated pain in other parts of my foot. The podiatrist told me the same thing…basically I need to wear these things as close to 24/7 as possible and even all around the house. Being a minimalist at heart, this just sounded wrong to me. We developed as a barefoot species. How is it that now I can only survive by wearing an orthotic 24/7?!? I want some relief, but I am not convinced this is going to bring it. Maybe I should cancel the appointment and look at other options.

  27. Carly says

    My calves had severe cramping and my ITBS started after I started wearing the orthotics. The podiatrist rolled his eye when I asked if the problems were caused by my foot being too supported. I swear it is and I stopped using them. Things have been getting better.

  28. Cynthia O'H says

    What an interesting post. Similarly, I picked up a lighter pair of running shoes today. The ones that I have been wearing are simply too heavy for me; I want more freedom for my feet and these are pulling me down. I think the days of expensive shoes are gone; more and more of us are going back to basics. Any thoughts on going barefoot?

  29. Richelle says

    I've been wearing custom orthotics since 2008 and I'm still getting injured every year (twice in 2010). You know that I've been experimenting with minimalist shoes (Newton, Nike Free) lately, but the verdict is still out. My knee continues to irritate me, and I'll find out in late March whether or not I'll need an MRI done to determine the problem.

    I'm glad you've discovered what works for you. It also looks like you're wearing toe spacers in the picture you posted. :)

  30. Liz says

    I've read your blog a few times, but I've just become a follower for the first time! We have a few things in common at the moment – I can't run and am long-term injured too. I've had PF since September. I've also been given orthotics, which I wear all day everyday. There has been little improvement though, so I read your post with interest. Hope you'll be back running soon – Good luck. Great blog!

  31. Val says

    As far as I know, there are no studies that shoe orthotics do anything useful. So like most things where we have no data, I say use them if they make you feel better, don't if they don't, but don't believe anyone who is dogmatic one way or the other because they have no proof!

  32. Mamarunsbarefoot says

    I had them, custom made even. I still got injured and my feet still hurt!! They are CRAP! I believe unless you've got some major deformity your feet are made to move and absorb shock. The arches are supposed to collapse and rebound then they run. Well how the hell can they do that with a piece of plastic under them?? Good for you! Be patient, let your feet get stronger, go slow. I'm excited for you!!

  33. Black Knight says

    I had a bad experience with my orthotics: now they are in the garbage. Wearing those things I had pain into my knee and all along the lower part of my left leg.

  34. Irene says

    I felt myself nodding as I read this post! I started using custom orthotics about a year ago, and was fine for a short while. I ended up with shin splints that were not enough to stop me from running, but a royal pain constantly. I first thought the shin splints were from wearing high heels one night, but that's usually not enough to prolong shin splints for several months. My PT even sent the orthotics back to have them reworked, but it was a waste of time. I decided on my own to go sans orthotics and my shin splints have diminished, not completely yet, but I think there's an end to the pain. I hope your relief continues!

  35. Terzah says

    I have never worn orthotics, and except for my recent diagnosis of Morton's neuroma have never been injured (knock on wood!).

    Now I'm nervous about the neuroma pad I'm wearing in my shoe (does it count as orthotics?). I'm going to stick with it for a while since it does seem to help with my foot pain on longer runs. However, my doc also suggested I strengthen my feet with things like grabbing marbles with my toes, towel grabs and barefoot running. I intend to take that advice! Don't know if neuromas ever go away, but hopefully these things in combo will help.

  36. Petraruns says

    I had really bad runner's knee a few years ago. A PT told me to have surgery and that I would never run again, so I went to see a podiatrist who prescribed me custom orthotics (has anyone EVER seen a podiatrist and not been prescribed custom orthotics?). I then went to see my osteopath who found my quads were tight, loosened them up and then I was back on the road. I wore my orthotics for a year and I got stronger and faster but found, all of a sudden, that I could not wear them any longer – they hurt. Now I haven't worn them for over a year. My knee pain seems to be responding to treatment for tight quads, I'm not tempted to put those things back in again. At best – they mask an underlying weakness. At worst, they cause more injuries..

  37. Bryanna Johnson says

    Your story is so similar to mine. (I just found your blog from zero-drop.com) I was also prescribed continuous orthotic use almost 6 years ago after developing terrible shin splints. Ever since then, it's been one injury after the other. Not to mention the discomfort of being in heavy running shoes all those summers! (So I could keep wearing the orthotics 24/7)

    3 weeks ago, I was reading runblogger.com. When I read about the injury conference and what they said during it, I decided to take my orthotics out too. After a couple days, I decided to not only ditch the orthotics but ditch the shoes too. I have now progressed to going barefoot all day, except when I have to leave my house to run errands (I'm a stay at home mom).

    I started running a little bit barefoot a couple days ago, just a couple minutes at a time. It felt wonderful! I'm excited to keep progressing and I'm excited to have stumbled upon your blog.

  38. A World of Gratitude says

    I have super flat feet, wore custom orthotics from the age of 7-18, and kept a few pairs for college when needed.

    "Cute shoes" were things that only "cool people" wore during that time, and it was a huge challenge, but it taught me a lot!

    Once I was away from my parents' insurance, I lived, walked, ran without the orthotics. Granted I run mostly on trails (roads only when they connect trails) and not as high mileage as some here, but all's been well.

    I love my Montrails, and I love the occasional barefoot run. I just have to focus on where/how I place my foot when I land. I know if my arch is rolling in too much then my shins will be in pain, so I focus on moving my foot to the side when I land.

    It means I run (at times) a bit more slowly, but it works. Nothing fancy, just a little mental focus. :-)

  39. Barbie says

    I used to wear orthotics as a kid because I was so flat footed but I found they caused more pain. So I now embrace my flat footedness and just try to strengthen my feet muscles by doing exercises.

  40. Colleen says

    I have no experience with them except for the fact that my company manufactures orthopedic braces and everyone assumes that they are orthotics (instead of the knee, elbow, back braces that we make! )

  41. marathonmaiden says

    i've never worn them but everyone i know who does wear them is a zealot. so good for you for listening to you. it doens't sound like they were helping you very much.

  42. Jill says

    My podiatrist wants to make an orthotic as the "next step" and well, you know that I didn't think this was going to do any good and thus went to that other guy from Regis Univ. I don't have any answers, but I think you gotta go with you instincts and do what you think is going to make a difference. And it appears you're heading in the right direction!!

    I can't help but wonder if I haven't torn something in my foot – I can barely even walk today and walking totally on the outside of my foot. Grr.

  43. Jess @ THIR says

    I, unfortunately will have to wear orthotics 24/7, for the rest of my life.
    I have a disability, and my right leg is a lot shorter than my left. I need at least a heel lift to stop my hips being thrown out, and all manner of knee, ankle, shouler and neck problems.
    But I guess I am just an extreme case.

    I still walk barefoot around the house. I still wear thongs (er, flip flops on your side of the world?) on a trip to the beach. But if I spend an afternoon on my feet without my orthotics, I can't walk for two days.

    It's only in the last two years that I've had them. Before that, I struggled to play a game of tennis without taking two days off work. Now, I'm a triathlete, training for a HIM in November. It's changed my life. I won't throw mine out.

  44. Jamoosh says

    On two different occassions (several years apart) orthotics were prescribed and I went through the foot cast ritual. Both times my feet were much happier after giving up the orthotics.

  45. Molly says

    I had custom orthotics for my shoes and running shoes when I had really bad PF. But I slowly weaned myself off them, and if I don't have my running shoes on, I live in Birkenstocks. I do have a small insert in my running shoes now, but it's just to keep my feet even, it's not custom.

  46. Kate says

    When I went to the podiatrist with a stress fracture in my toe, he immediately suggested orthotics. I immediately said, No thank you. I took the walking boot, and used that to keep weight off of the foot, but I knew orthotics were not what I needed. I have been fine ever since. I don't need no stinkin' orthotics!

  47. Caratunk Girl says

    Seriously, I am an ex-orthotic wearer. I hear ya, I think when our feet are strong, our bodies are strong and we are less apt to become injured…I 100% agree, they are splints!

  48. lindsay says

    i'm on the "our bodies were designed to do some amazing things" team. i side more with the barefoot theories than the need-shoes ones. however, i do know that sometimes we need a little help to correct issues and there's nothing wrong with taking the help. so, i'd support you either way :) i just want you to be pain-free!

  49. racingtales says

    I also gave up my orthotics a while back, for similar reasons. I had been led to believe I was a severe overpronator with a significant leg-length discrepancy and needed the orthotics to run without damaging myself. Strangely enough, with the orthotics, I got injured every year. Finally a physical therapist suggested I stop wearing them. At the same time I started doing Evolution Running drills and trained myself to stop heel striking. The difference has been amazing! I will never go back to the orthotics! Good Luck with your orthotic-free future!

  50. Dash says

    I have mixed opinions on them. I have them, and have been in and out of them since I was around 12. I can honestly say my legs always felt best when I was in them. Until a few years ago I was told I had to run in them too. I did and it was nothing but a nightmare. Now, I wear them non-running and that works best for me, although I think I need a new pair! Good luck with you feet, I hope this helps!

  51. Evolv Rose says

    First off, you're such a trooper. I can empathize with that "anything to run" sentiment.

    I don't really think orthotics help as much as they claim or that even half the people who wear them actually need them… but I'm not a barefoot runner, either. I think injuries such as breaks and tears need to be treated specially, but aches and pains should be handled with strengthening – not limiting – the foot's mobility.

  52. Jen says

    I used to be a big believer in orthotics, but I am now on the opposite page. I think they were a crutch for me and only made me weaker and more dependent on them. Since I ditched them in September, I've never been stronger. Not just my feet either. My whole legs.

  53. Adam says

    Knock furiously on wood, I haven't had to have them yet – so I hate to weigh in. I know they are expensive, and that I don't like. But, at the same time, they seem to help SOMEONE, so I hate to totally write them off.

    Well, look at that, i'm Switzerland.

  54. Rad Runner says

    So awesome, I just this past weekend while in Florida, right before I began to run a race.. that I infact never switched my super feet orthotics over to my new shoes.. Ive done 18 mile runs in these "new" shoes, and I never even noticed a difference :)!!

  55. The Green Girl says

    I swear by my custom orthotics. I was a hardcore green Superfeet wearer before I ended up with posterior tibial tendonitis after a bad ankle sprain.

    I have hard to fit feet that are flat and wide and I've struggled to find shoes that fit my entire life. I think because I've always worn supportive shoes – even as a child, it's hard for me to go minimal.

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