Can Orthotics Really Help My Heel Pain?

May 16, 2019

It’s not at all an exaggeration to call heel pain an epidemic in our society.

No, it doesn’t spread from person to person like a viral or bacterial infection. But the stresses of modern life have made heel pain an all-too-common complication of daily living.

In fact, it’s estimated that about 1 in 4 Americans will deal with at least one serious case of heel pain in their lifetime—severe enough to significantly impact quality of life.

So what’s the solution?

That depends on the unique particulars of your case, of course. The ultimate cause and contributing factors may make a difference in terms of what the best treatment approach is.

But for a large percentage of our heel pain patients, including those suffering from plantar fasciitis and Achilles tendinitis, a pair of arch supports (over-the-counter or custom) is going to be an essential part of both treatment and further prevention. In fact, Dr. Sunshein himself wears custom orthotics to help with his own foot pain!

To find out why, we need a brief lesson in foot and ankle biomechanics in today’s world.

Why Is There So Much Heel Pain Today?

You can pin the blame on a lot of factors, including expanding waistlines and substandard footwear. But one of the simplest explanations is simply a combination of gravity and modern surfaces.

Simply put, our feet weren’t designed to spend all day on hard, flat surfaces like concrete, asphalt, and linoleum. And over time, those forces can start to wear you down.

Specifically, the muscles and tendons that support the arch can weaken, which causes a cascade of problems. The arch drops. The ankle rolls inward. The foot and leg bones fall out of alignment with each other. And the heel is right at the center of it all, forced to absorb ever-greater impact forces with every step you take.

What Orthotics Can Do

A helpful analogy here would be to think of orthotics like a pair of glasses for your feet and arches. If you have a foot that is imbalanced or unstable, the orthotics can reposition them and support them so that they function as they are intended to function.

But even that analogy doesn’t quite work, because glasses won’t actually improve the quality of your biological eyes. Wearing the right pair of orthotics, however, can actually help the muscles of the bottom of your foot heal and get stronger, so they’re better able to resist gravity and reduce pain.

(This doesn’t mean that you’ll necessarily be able to stop wearing orthotics entirely, but it does help make your orthotics perform better and last longer, and reduces your overall risk of recurring heel pain.)

The right pair of orthotics will not only provide cushioning for the heel itself, but also support the arch and keep it from collapsing. For one, that means the plantar fascia ligament isn’t going to be overstretched to the same degree (which is the cause of plantar fasciitis, the No. 1 heel pain diagnosis). And two, your feet and legs are going to be in better alignment with one another, and forces will be better distributed across the entire foot (and away from the heel).

What Kind of Orthotics Do I Need?

At Sunshein Podiatry Associates, we offer a couple of different orthotic options to help people with their heel pain.

But first, an important word of warning: stay away from cheap inserts you can find at the grocery store or pharmacy!

Although it’s tempting to think that a $15 pair of insoles are going to help you, the truth is that these cheap, flimsy devices are usually woefully inadequate to treat your heel pain—and you might not even find a pair that really fits your feet appropriately.

Instead, come down to Sunshein Podiatry Associates. As we said, we have a couple of options for you:

Prefabricated arch supports. For our patients with mild-to-moderate heel pain, we carry Powersteps arch supports, and they tend to work really well for most people. They’re a lot higher quality than orthotics you can typically find off the shelf at the pharmacy or athletic store, and you’ll have a genuine foot and ankle expert there to make sure you get the proper pair.

In our analogy, these are more like reading glasses—they’re acceptable for mild dysfunction or for short periods of time, but not always the best long-term solution. That said, if we think a pair of off-the-shelf orthotics is all you need, we’re happy to provide them for you.

Custom orthotics. If your heel pain and/or foot alignment problems are more severe, you may need a pair of custom-molded orthotics. Each pair is uniquely fashioned in a lab, using a mold and/or scan of your own two feet. This allows them to correct foot alignment with a much higher degree of precision, especially for foot structures that deviate a lot further from “normal.”

Custom orthotics also have the advantage of being a lot more rigid and durable than prefabs. Since they’re designed to fit perfectly, they can be made from firmer plastics while still providing enough “flex” to be comfortable and allow your foot to function normally. And they can last years with proper care, unlike prefabs—which tend to give out after about six months or so.

The Help Your Heels Need, Today

As we said, heel pain affects millions of Americans, of every age and demographic. But that doesn’t make it “normal,” and it doesn’t mean you should just put up with it!

The expert team at Sunshein Podiatry Associates has helped countless patients from throughout the Dayton area overcome their heel pain through treatments such as orthotics, laser therapy, and more. We understand that every patient and every case is unique, and work hard to provide personalized treatment options that are both effective and appropriate for your lifestyle.

To schedule an appointment with us at our office in Centerville, please call (937) 435-7477 today.


6474 Centerville Business Pkwy, Centerville, OH 45459


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