Do orthotics help? One study says maybe not


Orthotics re-adjust how your foot strikes the ground -- though it may or may not help. Image: Flickr / rockbadger / CC-BY

Orthotics, medical shoe inserts, have been used for decades to correct a wide variety of problems. The science of orthotics, however, leaves some wondering “do orthotics help”? One leading researcher says that they might, but there simply isn’t science to back it up.

The basics of orthotics

Orthotics are specially molded inserts for shoes. These inserts are usually used to help prevent or treat injuries such as shin splints, knee stress and twisted ankles. Orthotics are used for individuals with congenital deformities. However, the majority of orthotics are used for athletes who are trying to prevent injuries or improve performance. Do orthotics help, or are athletes spending thousands of dollars for the equivalent of molded snake oil?

Do orthotics help or do orthotics hurt?

Several researchers have started studying this question, “do orthotics help?” Benno M. Nigg, a biomechanical researcher and professor, and Joseph Hamill, who runs a biomechanics lab, both say they may or may not be helpful. If orthotics are helpful, it’s an effect that lasts only in the short term. Both of these researchers based their opinion on the fact that orthotics’ effect cannot really be isolated or studied as a biomechanical effect. The biggest problem in determining whether orthotics help is that there doesn’t seem to be a way to estimate what, exactly, the effect of a particular orthotic may or may not be.

The business of orthotics

Orthotics are a big business. Drugstore companies such as Dr. Scholl’s make their money selling out-of-the-box orthotics to be purchased for a few dollars. Medical orthotics can cost hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars. Athletes often spend hundreds of thousands of dollars for just one season’s worth of orthotics. Many athletes who wear orthtics claim that they feel better, but most research on orthotics is funded by those who make the inserts.

So – do orthotics help? The research doesn’t necessarily support it, but they just might.


NY Times

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