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The Hidden Pitfalls of Orthotics: Weakening Feet Over Time

Orthotics are often seen as a saviour for people dealing with various foot problems, such as weak arches, leg length differences, or chronic heel pain. However, while these shoe inserts can provide short-term relief, there’s a hidden downside that many are unaware of: over time, orthotics can weaken your feet. It’s a bit like the concept of supporting a broken arm in a cast; while it aids healing, it can lead to muscle atrophy due to the muscles being supported rather than used. The most common Orthotic is an arch support, designed to support the arch of your foot and thereby realign the lower leg, with the result of lowering pain in the foot, heel and knee. However, when relied upon for too long, they can cause the muscles to weaken, ultimately rendering the orthotic ineffective and your problem unresolved.

The Problem with Orthotics:

Any orthotic, be it a heel lift or arch support, can alter the biomechanics of your lower body. While this can provide temporary relief from pain, it also shifts the burden away from your foot’s natural support structures, leading to muscle weakness. As your foot becomes accustomed to the external support, it gradually loses its natural strength and stability.

Seeking the Root Cause:

If you turned to orthotics to alleviate pain, it’s essential to address the root cause of your discomfort. Often Orthotics are relied on for knee and heel problems and they can provide immediate relief, but it isn’t solving the cause of the pain, merely helping with the symptom. In order to understand the root causes of your pain and address this, it is necessary to complete a lower body assessment. Orthotics should be seen as a temporary solution rather than a permanent fix. The key is to strengthen your feet and rejuvenate your arches as well as looking at the whole lower body mechanics, to understand where the pain is originating from and eliminate the need for orthotics in the long run.

Taking Action:

Here is a simple exercise you can do to strengthen your feet and reduce your reliance on orthotics:

  1. Towel Scrunch Exercise:
  • Place a towel on a smooth surface like tiles or wooden floors.
  • Using only your toes, try to scrunch the towel up under your feet.
  • Focus on your big toe to do most of the work, isolating the foot muscles.
  • As it becomes easier, progress by adding a water bottle to the end of the towel, partially filled with water.
  • This added weight will make the exercise more challenging.
  • Gradually increase the water level in the bottle as your strength improves.
  • Once you can easily pull the towel and a full 2-liter water bottle, transition to a surface with more friction, like carpet, and repeat the process. Remarkably, a normal level of foot strength is being able to scrunch a 2-liter water bottle on carpet!
Running Physiotherapy Exercises in Kenilworth, Leamington Spa, Warwick and Solihull.

Orthotics are fabulous at providing much-needed relief from foot pain, they can alter the forces moving through your feet and can also very useful when assessing the root causes of your pain. However, relying on them for extended periods can lead to weakened foot muscles and reduced effectiveness over time. Instead of masking the problem, consider addressing the root cause of your discomfort by strengthening your feet. The towel scrunch exercise is a great starting point, but if you’ve been using orthotics for an extended period, it’s advisable to seek professional guidance to develop a comprehensive strength program. By taking these steps, you can work towards a future where you no longer need orthotics, and your feet are naturally strong and pain-free improving your whole lower body function.

Find out how we treat foot pain here.

For more information on orthotics, take a look here.