Reader’s Roundtable: What’s the Deal with Orthotics?

There's gotta be a reason that Dr. Scholl's is still in business, right? Image of Dr. William Scholl from
There’s gotta be a reason that Dr. Scholl’s is still in business, right? Image of Dr. William Scholl from

I was running with my friend yesterday and she told me the saga of her recent bout of foot pain. It wasn’t a terrible pain, but it bothered her on occasion and she decided to go get it checked out. She booked the first appointment she could find with whatever sports doctor was available at the large industrial hospital complex in our city. While she waited the couple weeks for her appointment the pain receded, but since it took a while to get the appointment she decided to go anyway. During the exam she felt no pain as the doctor examined her foot and he could find nothing wrong, but he still gave her shoe inserts and told her to try them out and come back to get fitted for custom orthotics.

I couldn’t believe this! She had no pain, he found nothing wrong and still he prescribed orthotics? This seemed insane to me, like giving someone a pill despite no evidence of illness. Her story got me wondering whether this is normal. So I thought I’d ask you!

Has a doctor pushed orthotics on you? Have you refused orthotics? Or have orthotics actually helped you? We want to know. What’s the deal with orthotics!ย 

Salty Running boss and mother of 3 little ones with PRs of 3:10:15 (26.2), 1:25:59 (13.1) and 18:15 (5k). I love to write about running culture, mental training, and fitting in a serious running habit with the rest of a busy life.

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  1. Orthotics might be overprescribed by some, but those who need them should not feel badly about using them! I think the key is, do your due diligence when deciding which healthcare provider you choose to see – even if it means waiting for a while for your appointment. If you see someone reputable and they feel orthotics are indicated, then you may really benefit from wearing them. This was certainly the case for me.

  2. I agree with pretty much everything Rebecaa Breslow said. I saw an orthopedist for my foot pain (which I highly recommend over a sports med doctor) and made sure he was a runner. He did an x-ray of my foot and gave me some recommendations to help clear up the problem. I was told only if the pain didn’t go away after rest or it came back, then I might need to look into custom orthotics. I think orthotics can be useful in some cases, but in my opinion a doctor that gives them as an immediate solution is lazy.

  3. My head hurts.
    – Take this aspirin.

    My foot hurts.
    – Wear this orthotic.

    My foot hurts.
    – We need to find out why your foot hurts …

    It’s a shame you have to actually go through the appointment ordeal to figure out which kind of doctor you’ve got.
    I’m now at the point where I won’t go unless I know (which kind) before I go in. Meanwhile, I’m doing my own troubleshooting and root cause analysis – which also buys me the healing benefit of time ๐Ÿ˜‰

    And, yes. I’ve been immediately prescribed inserts (or custom orthotics, if I’d like) with nary a glance at my feet or much of a history. This by the podiatrist to a certain well-known Michigan-based running team.

  4. Well, the guy might think that a special shoe insert might decrease the pain if it ever comes back. As having an appointment takes a very long time, she can try without having to wait several days/weeks/months/years for a potential appointment. However, I tend to agree with you – the less medication the better and most of the time, resting is the best medication!

  5. I’ve run with and without orthotics and not sure they’ve done any good. What I love are foot massages (especially with people who specialize in reflexology, not so much for the ancillary purposes but because of the foot movement) and how getting more movement in my foot joints and toe flexibility seem to help my running form. I’ve not had foot injuries and although I have very narrow feet and high arches, not sure orthotics is the way to go…and I’ve been recommended them from running stores.

  6. I’m a PT so I’m going to try not to get too therapist-y about it. If someone has a recurring leg injury, orthotics may or may not be the answer. There are always muscular imbalances that will need to be addressed (tight muscles, weak muscles, etc.) but you can’t just hand someone orthotics and assume they are the answer. You really need a professional to examine the structure of your foot, watch your gait, assess strength, etc. in order to determine if orthotics can potentially help. They are always worth a try!

  7. My podiatrist is very certain that I’ll benefit from custom orthotics. (I haven’t done anything about this yet, but I probably will because at this point I’ll try anything that might get me running again.) I see him through Kaiser Permanente, which doesn’t cover orthotics and sends you elsewhere to self-pay for them. He strongly implied that private practice podiatrists overprescribe orthotics because they’re a cash cow, but he doesn’t because Kaiser. He claims that only about one patient a month really needs them (lucky me, being the July winner!!). I’ve only seen this guy twice and am still figuring out whether he’s trustworthy, so feel free to take all this with some salt…

    Something else he said that night be relevant to Salty’s friend is that orthotics don’t cure pain or anything else; they’re for preventing problems in people whose foot structure predisposes them to pain. So maybe the idea is that she’s OK for now but seems likely to have more problems in the future?

  8. Long time ago, when I was a young girl ๐Ÿ˜‰ the doctor looked at my feet and said: “Well, they sure are flat.” They were indeed but I did not have any pains or other problems and I always ran instead of walked from A to B. It is something I was born with, my father passed them on to me (thanks, dad). I got orthotics prescibed and they were just awfull hard plastic things that ruined my shoes. I did wear them for a few months but ditched them then. The thing is that this whole experience had made me thinking for decades that there was something wrong with my feet. But running on antipronation shoes with support elements was the most terrible thing my feet could experience. Today I’m runniing on light weight flat shoes with no cushioning or support and I’m totally happy with it. My feet are still very flat though, although they have grown a lot stronger. I’m not a fan of orthotics and think they can do more bad than good when they prevent the feet from moving in their ‘natural’ way. But this is just based on my personal experience. I would rather first try to strengthen the feet if there is any pain or discomfort before trying orthotics – but that of course is economically less profitable. But I’m no expert by any means.