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Orthotics — What Are They and Do I Really Need Them?


By Thomas A. Wicks, PhD, DC, FACO, board-certified Chiropractic Orthopedist and Faculty Clinician, Palmer Chiropractic Clinics

pain is a common problem in the United States today. A large percentage
of visits to a medical doctor’s office, emergency room, urgent care, or
chiropractor’s office are by individuals with back problems. These back
problems can be caused by injury from slips and falls (especially in
the winter), sports injuries, illness, work-related lifting problems, or
for no known reason. But whatever the reason, back pain is associated
with structural problems and the ensuing inflammatory response. One of
the primary reasons for putting ice or a cold pack on an injured area is
to help control the inflammation and to reduce swelling. Injured
athletes know this all too well; they know that to treat an injured
ankle, knee, hip, or low back, the first thing to do is to put ice on
the injured area. Structural problems contribute to back injuries as
well. Chiropractors are educated and trained to detect and treat these
structural problems. They know that all joints in the body are related,
and one area of the body can affect other areas through what is known as
the kinetic chain.

Kinetic Chain
The kinetic chain is a
concept stating that all joints in the human body are affected by other
joints, and that any movement in one joint will affect the others in a
positive or negative way. This concept was first introduced by a
mechanical engineer in the late 1800s and later adapted to the human
body to explain why when a runner injures a knee, pain can and often
does occur in the hip, low back, or even the neck. This concept affects
all joints from the feet to the head and can help explain why foot
problems can translate into not only foot and ankle pain, but knee pain,
low back pain, upper back pain, and even headaches. The feet act as the
foundation of the spine, and just as a house has a foundation, when
structural problems occur in the foundation, problems can occur in the
remainder of the structure of the house. For example, structural
problems could lead to cracks in the walls, windows sticking, and even
doors that won’t close. When problems occur in the spine’s foundation
(the feet), problems can occur throughout areas controlled by the spine,
such as knee pain, hip pain, low back pain, and so forth. This is where
the concept of orthotics comes in.

An orthotic is an
item that is placed in the shoe that gives support to the arches of the
foot. Most of us are familiar with what is called the arch of the foot
but many are unaware that there are actually three arches, one on the
medial or inside of the foot, one on the lateral or outside of the foot,
and one between these two, the transverse arch. The orthotic can be
made of various materials, including soft sponge, gel, hard plastic, or
even leather.

The goal of most orthotics is to provide support for
foot problems. The goal is to provide patients with support for the
foundation of the spine so that not only are foot problems treated, but
spinal-related problems as well.

To get the best results from an
orthotic, patients must be fitted in some fashion with the orthotic. The
older methods of fitting orthotics involved casting in either plaster
of Paris or foam. More recently, however, by using newer technology,
computerized scanning of the feet is the optimum way to determine the
need for orthotic support. A 3-D scanner is used to examine a person’s
foot to measure things such as size of the arches, length of the foot,
width of the foot, and pressure on the various parts of the sole of the
foot, among other things. Once this scan is taken, technicians make 16
measurements on each foot and design an orthotic for the foot that
creates support in not only the three arches, but in the fore foot and
heel areas as well.

If someone is suffering from plantar fasciitis or
heel spurs, corrections can be made in the orthotic to accommodate
those problems in the foot as well. The measurements made on the foot
from the scan can also tell the technician if the foot is rolling in or
out. With this knowledge, an orthotic can be constructed to help
accommodate this condition. The orthotics prescribed for patients are
custom-designed with corrective arch support. Orthotics can be made with
a variety of top coverings for durability, and can fit almost any style
of shoe. Each orthotic is designed to provide support for all the
phases of foot motion during walking or running, including heel strike,
mid-stance, and toe-off.

In order to determine whether you really
need orthotics, you should ask yourself, “Am I having foot pain, low
back pain, knee pain, or hip pain?” If you are, custom-made orthotics
could be an added component to your care that may provide you with
additional relief.

To make an appointment to be evaluated for
orthotic support, contact the Palmer Chiropractic Clinics by phone at
563-884-5801 (Davenport Clinic) or 309-764-4901 (Moline Clinic), or
request an appointment online at www.palmerclinics.com/qc.