Can wearing orthotics help strengthen your feet?
When I started my career as an Athletic Therapist CAT (C) more than 10 years ago, literature from then and my education convinced me orthotics weaken the feet. To strengthen the feet you had to work them out…made sense. I was fascinated with human performance and decided to pursue my strength and conditioning specialty CSCS so I could help athletes improve their foot function to run faster, jump higher, move quicker, more efficiently, and all while reducing the risk of injury. Most of the training was around the big muscle groups, hips, core, shoulders; but rarely anything about the feet.
My fascination of optimizing human movement grew over time and I kept observing recreational and high-level athletes getting stuck with issues stemming from the feet; plantar fasciitis, patella femoral pain syndrome (PFPS), hip bursitis, sciatica, the list goes on and on. Why couldn’t these athletes improve their foot function, despite exercises and verbal cues? It occurred to me that the volume of training required to effectively retrain the feet is quite significant, and if you’re working with a therapist twice/week for 20 minutes a shot, it’s going to be a slow process! So, I became a Pedorthist C. Ped (C). A dynamic orthotic that provides sensory motor feedback to the thousands of nerve endings in your feet can help your feet train consistently when-ever you are using them! The orthotics behave like a mini therapist in your shoe working 24/7 (or at least whenever you are weightbearing) coaching you on how your feet should move. If you move the wrong way, they remind you with a message directly to your feet – kind of like a therapist guiding you with their hands through the corrected movement pattern. This doesn’t happen quite on its own, the patient still needs to be trained on how their feet should function based on their unique biomechanics and the orthotic has to be purposefully developed for this intention; but results can be quite a bit faster! On the other hand, it is quite common to see overly aggressive orthotics designed for decently functioning feet. Othotics can be designed for a dozen different intended outcomes, but they are most commonly designed to brace the feet. For many people however, they don’t require their feet to be braced as it causes the muscles in the foot and leg to become weaker and in some cases even atrophy (muscle size gets smaller). The footwear is also especially important in how the orthotic impacts the body, but that’s for another story. So yes, orthotics can make your feet stronger – they just must be designed with that intention and you must be trained on how your body best functions.
If you have any questions or want to start a conversation, drop me a line.