Custom Orthotics—Your Missing Piece?

By: Dave Hahn PT, SCS

When looking to optimize your physical well-being, would you ever think that a custom orthotic could be a difference-maker?  For some people, it could be just that!  Allow me to explain . . .

What Is A Custom Orthotic?

A custom orthotic is a shoe insert made specific to your foot anatomy and tailored precisely to your needs.  It provides your foot a platform on which to stand, walk, and run.  And by changing the platform you stand on, you can effectively change biomechanics and the way your foot functions.  To understand this better, it’s good to know how an orthotic is made.  Here’s how it works:

  1. The patient’s orthotic order starts with plaster casting—the preferred way of capturing the specific anatomy and contours of your foot.  This is done at the physical therapy suite located at the main SPO clinic.
a physical therapist prepares a plaster cast on a patient's foot

2. The plaster casts are then sent out to a lab for fabrication.  At the lab, the casts are filled with plaster and allowed to dry.  Once dry, this becomes a replica of your foot.

The physical therapist removes the plaster cast from a patient's foot to dry

3. A sheet of plastic is heated to a point where it becomes flexible and is then placed over the top of the replica of your foot.  A rubber hood then covers the plastic and a hose valve is turned on to create a vacuum.  By sucking out all the air, the rubber hood presses the plastic over the replica of your foot.  This process creates the orthotic shell.

4. After the shell cools down, material is added to the bottom of the shell, and then a technician takes it to a grinder where it is shaved down to fit into your shoe.

A technician grinds down an orthotic shell to fit a patient's shoe

5. Additional pads and covers are then glued onto the shell, at the direction of the physical therapist, to achieve optimal comfort.

Pads are added to the orthotic shell

6. The custom orthotics are then packaged and shipped back to Stevens Point Orthopedics for patient pick-up.

A completed custom orthotic insert

How Can Custom Orthotics Help You?

Knowing the basics of how custom orthotics are made helps to understand how they can help improve your comfort and function.  For example, take the plaster model of your foot.  There are times when people need support under a bone in their midfoot (the cuboid).  The lab can bevel out that portion of the plaster foot model.  This will make the shell bubble up in that spot, thereby providing the needed support.  There are also clinical situations where we want the opposite to occur.  So, we ask that additional materials be added to the plaster foot model to help alleviate pressure to tender areas of the foot.

Someone that stands and walks with really flat feet (referred to as overpronation) could benefit by adding material to the orthotic shell.  Such extra material, called a “post,” can be added to tilt the inside bottom of the orthotic which will decrease how flat that foot can come down.  And for someone with pain in the ball of the foot, adding extra padding to the parts of the foot that are not sore decreases pressure to the painful area.

These are just a few of the many ways that an orthotic can be customized to meet a patient’s needs. 

Patient's feet being fitted for custom orthotics

How Do I Get A Pair of Custom Orthotics?

Patients at Stevens Point Orthopedics can have custom orthotics made in our Physical Therapy department.  Most insurance companies do not cover this service, but patients can pay for orthotics out of their HSA or FSA accounts.  Custom orthotics purchased at Stevens Point Orthopedics cost $275.

Everyone from high school athletes to senior citizens and everyone in between can benefit from custom orthotics.  Whether you are looking to optimize biomechanics and function, or just improve your comfort, come see the physical therapists at Stevens Point Orthopedics for your very own pair.  Your feet will be happy you did!

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