If you’ve met Dr. Melhuish, or you’re a regular reader of this blog, you probably already know how we feel about orthotics. But we’ll re-summarize anyway.
Simply put, orthotics are among the most versatile and effective treatment options we have for all sorts of painful problems throughout the feet, legs, and even back. By putting your feet back into proper position and realigning your biomechanics, the right pair of orthotics can significantly reduce stress and fatigue on muscles and joints throughout the standing skeletal structure.
But what happens if, after wearing your orthotics for a while—usually at least a year or two, though sometimes sooner—pain starts creeping back into the picture?
Unfortunately, this is a more common occurrence than you might think. But don’t worry! It doesn’t mean that your problem can no longer be solved with orthotics, or even that you necessarily need a new pair. But you will need to stop by and see us for an evaluation and potential adjustment.
Common Reasons Your Orthotics Might Not Be Working Anymore
If you find you just aren’t getting the same level of relief from your orthotics that you used to, it might be for one of these reasons:
Your feet have changed
It’s a common misconception that, once you’ve reached adulthood, your feet stop growing and stay the same size and shape for the rest of your life. That just isn’t true.
In fact, feet tend to slowly get a little longer, wider, and flatter as you get older—even if you don’t have any diagnosed deformities like bunions or flat feet. As we age, the connective tissues (ligaments, tendons) that support the arch and hold foot bones together start to lose some strength and elasticity, which causes the bones to spread out.
The effect is pronounced enough that gaining about half a shoe size every 10 years or so beyond age 40 is not uncommon.
Of course, if you do develop a foot deformity such as a bunion or adult-acquired flatfoot, your foot shape can change much more rapidly than that.
Pregnancy is another factor that can alter the shape of your feet. During pregnancy, your body releases hormones that loosen and relax ligaments throughout your body. As an unintended side effect of this process, foot bones often spread out a bit, and won’t completely return to their original positions even after pregnancy.
Your gait has changed
It’s not just the shape of your feet that changes over time. The way that you walk changes as well.
Once again, it could simply be the natural consequence of aging. Certainly you can (and should) continue to practice your balance and keep your legs strong to minimize the risk of falling. But the inevitable truth is that, eventually, your muscle mass will decline, joints become arthritic and less flexible, stride lengths shorten, and you’ll adopt a more cautious gait.
In other cases, it may be a more specific recent event that alters your gait. Maybe you recently had hip surgery, or an injury to your ankle that never fully healed.
Regardless of the underlying cause, a change in your gait will also change the way that forces, and pressure move across your feet as you stand and walk. An orthotic that has been optimized for a certain style of walking may not be as effective for another.
Your orthotics are worn out
High quality orthotics—especially custom orthotics—are made with durable construction materials and built to last. But that doesn’t mean they are going to last forever.
The wear and tear of supporting your feet every day through all your activities will take its toll, little by little.
How long can you expect your orthotics to last? That depends on a lot of different factors, including:
- Materials. Orthotics made from hard plastic or tough graphite, for example, may be expected to last longer than softer orthotics.
- Weight. The heavier you are, the more force you place on your orthotics, and the faster they’re likely to wear out.
- Activity. Orthotics that are regularly subjected to running, jumping, and athletic use will probably wear out faster than those worn by someone with a more sedentary lifestyle.
In general, a 3 to 5-year lifespan for a good custom orthotic is fairly normal. However, some need to be replaced closer to every year, while others we’ve seen last longer than 5 years. It really depends. That’s why we strongly recommend you schedule a yearly orthotics checkup appointment with us to make sure your orthotics are still in top shape.
If Your Orthotics Aren’t Working as Well as They Should, Give Us A Call
When you notice pain starting to return and worsen even when you’re wearing your orthotics as instructed, it’s time to schedule an appointment with Sierra Foot & Ankle. No one in the Carson Valley area is better trained or equipped than Dr. Melhuish to assess, adjust, and optimize your orthotics.
Why is that?
- Our practice has been focused on biomechanics from the very beginning. Dr. Melhuish even studied to be a structural engineer before a career change to podiatry. Understanding the link between biomechanics, orthotics, and pain relief is a core specialty.
- We have our own on-site orthotics laboratory where we can make same-day precision adjustments to your current pair of orthotics—including many types of prefabricated orthotics. Often times, your orthotics don’t need to be fully replaced; they just need to be adjusted. We can make those adjustments for you, using advanced tools you aren’t going to find in many other podiatry clinics.
Additionally, if you really do need a brand-new pair of custom orthotics (rather than just adjustments or refurbishments to your current pair), we are one of the best around when it comes to making and fitting them. While most other podiatrists are still using foam boxes or plaster molds, our advanced services include computerized gait analysis, high-resolution digital foot scanning, and even 3-D printing.
So if your orthotics just aren’t working anymore—or maybe they never worked as well as you wanted them to—pick up the phone and give us a call. We’ll do everything we can to either restore the orthotics you already have or put you in a pair that works.
You can schedule an appointment at our office in Carson City at (775) 783-8037. You can also reach us electronically by filling out our online contact form.