Why Your Feet Are Special Enough for Custom Orthotics

No matter if you’re a fan of old western movies or not, there are several clichés and character types from the genre you’re likely quite familiar with:

  • A lonely tumbleweed rolling along the main street
  • The sharp-shooting sheriff riding on his noble horse, and his star-shaped badge shining in the bright sun
  • Black-clad outlaws who have come into town with plans to rob the 3:10 train of all its loot
  • A brawl starting over a game of poker in a salon—featuring an old-timey piano, of course—and spilling out into the street

Given the popularity westerns once had- they were the superhero movies of the era, after all- these kinds of things are still quite well-known. Yet another classic western trope that was so prevalent it etched its way into our lexicon is the proverbial snake oil salesman.

In the westerns, this sleazy guy—and it seems like it always was a guy—would sell medicinal remedies from the back of his wagon while making outrageous claims as to everything this magical elixir could do for the townspeople:

  • “Going bald? This will put hair on your head!”
  • “You’re blind? Get your sight back!”
  • “Crippling Rheumatism? Walk immediately!”
  • “You have an ingrown toenail? Snake oil will get that nail out of your skin!”

(Okay, they never claimed that last one, but this is a podiatrist’s blog, you know?)

Sometimes, the snake oil salesman would stage “proof” of the product’s efficacy by using an accomplice who acted as though he or she had an ailment and then would drink the oil—only to be miraculously cured.

And then the townspeople would start buying the product en masse.

Man, people were so gullible back then.

Wait, “back then”?

The fact of the matter is this, even the smartest among us are still fooled from time to time. The key is not falling for something twice. After all, that’s why we say “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”

Although the times have changed, the situation has not.

Snake oil salesmen no longer travel from town to town in covered wagons. Rather, they open stores and have entertaining commercials where they sell orthotic devices. And the clever, albeit misleading and false, sales pitches have moved from the backs of wagons to television screens and YouTube.

If you haven’t already picked up on the clues, you can bet your bottom dollar that we’re talking about our friends at the Not-So-Good Foot Store—but let’s get back to them in a moment.

To understand why they can be considered modern snake oil salesmen, we should really start by talking about what real custom orthotics are and how they can actually benefit you.

When prescribed from an actual podiatrist, and not a salesperson at a store, orthotics can be used to address a wide range of conditions and injuries, including plantar fasciitis, Sever’s disease, posterior tibial tendonitis, and mid- and rearfoot arthritis.

These medical devices have a solid, robust construction and are customized for each patient’s unique foot structure. That second part is quite important. Although most people have the same basic structure—five toes, ball of foot, midfoot, heel, etc.— these are put together diffidently, much like your facial features. Even twins would not be comfortable in the other’s custom orthotics! Although you can inherit excessive pronation or a deformity from your family, you will not have the exact structure or size as others in your family.

Accordingly, an orthotic device that works for one person might not work for someone else. Worse, it could possibly be harmful (redirecting force loads into areas they don’t need to be directed).

Custom orthotics are durable. The top layer itself can usually last 2-3 years before it needs to be refurbished. We like to check you and your orthotics every 5 years to make sure the devices are still functioning properly, and especially to note if there have been any structural changes in the feet. That’s important because even minor changes can make a huge difference. (You probably do not have the same feet (and waist line) you had 10 years ago.)

This is in stark contrast to the flimsy inserts you can buy off the shelf at retail stores, flea markets and nationwide pharmacy chains. Even the ones containing gel inside don’t really do what you think they should. In part, this can be attributed to the fact that feet just naturally have a lot of shock absorption and propulsion capabilities on their own.

And with regards to the cushioning mass-produced inserts do provide, this is actually a bad thing for people who overpronate. If your feet rotate in excessively, you need extra motion control, not cushion!

Now, sometimes there is confusion on a certain matter—the difference between OTC inserts and prefabricated orthotics.

Prefabricated orthotics are generally thinner and have less control than customized ones. They have firm shells which can be modified like their custom counter parts.

When minimal correction is needed—generally around two to four degrees—prefabricated orthotics can be a great option. Customized ones are better for providing four to eight degrees of correction.

Either way, we do extensive testing in our office before prescribing an orthotic device, because we want to make sure it’s actually going to work for you (which isn’t something you’ll find at a certain store…).

We like to use the analogy that orthotics are like eyeglasses. This comparison holds up in a couple of different ways. For one, you need to actually wear either of these medical devices to receive the benefits they provide.

In the same way that a pair of glasses sitting on the table won’t make your eyes better, a pair of orthotics left in the closet aren’t going to perform their intended function.

Fortunately, there should be positive feedback—when the orthotics are comfortable and relieve your symptoms, you don’t want to go without them. (And that includes children!)

Some parents worry that they will spend money on orthotics their kids won’t want to wear. Fortunately, children actually do wear them. Sure, this can be attributed to the fact they take away pain, but another factor in this is the way they look.

Naturally, it’s basically impossible to see a pair of orthotics when they are in shoes that are being worn, but our orthotics are brightly colored, which many kids think is pretty cool. That’s not the reason for the neon or graffiti styles, though.

The orthotics lab we use had previously only offered two colors. The problem with this was that they weren’t particularly vivid or noticeable. Unfortunately, the mom of one of our younger patients was cleaning out his closet while he was at the pool and didn’t realize an older pair of shoes contained her son’s orthotics. Out they went.

After that, we talked to the lab about what had happened and they’ve since started offering multiple color options. If that situation happened now, Mom would easily see the orthotics and take them out before discarding the old shoes.

Being able to choose from a variety of style options is kind of like choosing eyeglass frames of different colors, huh?

Well, another similarity between glasses and orthotics is this simple fact:

OTC versions are never going to be as effective as prescription (when more than very minor correction is needed).

The reading glasses you can buy at the store can potentially make it a little easier to read, but don’t do much beyond that.

The “orthotics” you can buy off the shelf might provide even less benefit than that, except put a little extra coin in Dr. Scholl’s pockets.

And that brings us back to “The Not-So-Good Foot Store” because those shoe inserts can cost upwards of $700.

(Nope, we didn’t add an extra zero there.)

Here’s the real kicker, though—the $700 product from The Not-So-Good Foot Store is the same as what you can order online for $50 (or less!).

At the end of the day, it’s up to you how you spend your hard-earned money.

That said, we hope you don’t get hoodwinked by these modern-day snake oil salesmen. Sure, you can return the products for a refund when you find the “custom” orthotics don’t actually work—unfortunately, it’s going to be given in the form of store credit.

You do have a better option, though. Come see us at our Indianapolis office in the first place. We can properly diagnose your condition and determine what you really need—not what a Not-So-Good Foot Store wants to sell—when it comes to an orthotics device.

We provide testing before prescribing your custom orthotics. And we will schedule appointments to make sure everything is actually working for you.

(You won’t find that at a certain store!)

For more information or to request an appointment, simply give us a call at (317) 545-0505!

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9505 E. 59th St., Suite A
Indianapolis, IN 46216

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