Basic Orthotics for Runners
by Vasile Faklis
Feet are the foundation of the body, and how the feet work affects the rest of the body. An analogy that is often made is that feet are like the tires on a car. In order to have the car drive well (i.e. the knee, the hip, the lower back… work well) it is important to balance the tires. If your feet are out of alignment your entire body can be out of alignment.
Consider that the foot/ankle structure is like a stack of bricks. If they are on top of one another, they will stay forever without added effort. Once they are offset, you have to hold them up to prevent further leaning. As you attempt to do so, the supporting structures (muscles/ligaments…) become fatigued, allowing even further leaning or lengthening. Therefore, when the plantar fascia (sole of the foot) is excessively long, allowing excessive pronation, the foot drops and the structures that attempt to hold it up, (i.e. the plantar fascia) become overworked, tight, and sore.
Looking at this analogy, it becomes evident that it is easier to maintain an erect posture that it is to become erect after becoming offset. The implication for the foot is that it is better to establish an appropriate erect stance as soon as possible, rather than wait until later. Preventative care is a lot easier and less painful than rehabilitative care, especially in athletics.
Without going much further into physics and anatomy (we’ll save that for a future discussion), simply put, an efficient runner is an effective runner. In order to be efficient you want your body to be working at it’s optimum levels and not overworking. You will perform better and feel better. You will have less injuries and be able to enjoy a much longer running life.
A conservative approach for proper lower extremity bio-mechanics is to first look at the equipment used while running. Running shoes, socks, footbeds, or custom foot orthotics are some of the main equipment that we need to properly evaluate and serously consider.
Take the time and effort to find an educated, experienced professional that will measure your feet every time you buy your shoes. Size does matter! The same size you wore twenty years ago may not be the size you wear now. As your body goes through the aging process so do your feet. Aside from being measured and fitted properly, locating the correct size in various shoe brands is the next challenge to understand. Most people assume that shoe manufacturers have a standardized scale from which they produce their shoe sizes, but in fact, they do not. Therefore, it is important to note that if you wear a certain size in a certain brand, it may not necessarily be the correct size in another brand. Be careful and always consult a professional who can help you.
Socks aren’t just socks anymore! They have gone high-tech too. Make sure you take advantage of the various materials available (i.e. cool max, wool blends, acrylics, microsafe, anti-blister…). Again, seek the advice of a professional to inform you properly on these materials and what might be best for you.
At last, footbeds and foot orthotics. Do you need them? If made properly and sport specific, why would you not want to be proactive and give the foundation of your body the ultimate support and shock absorption available. A lot of people ask us why their shoes alone are not sufficient? Custom foot orhtotics customize your shoes to your feet and body alignment. When a triathlete purchases a bike he/she has that bike tweaked to his/her body alignment. Why should your feet be any different?
Professional planter surface pressure mapping and comprehensive (before and after) gait analyses (by trained professionals) are key to the success or failure of these customized devices. Also, there are a lot of new materials that are made to take the pounding, temperature, and moisture changes that runners put their feet through. Sport specific foot orthotics are more comfortable and easier to get used to as compared to other foot orthotics that might be uncomfortable and made of rigid plastic materials.
The foot orthotics that we recommend for runners are adjustable and allow the individual to have a comfortable adjustment period. For some people that have worn other devices, the “break-in” period never ends. Therefore, an adjustable device is clearly an excellent alternative. Generally, every individual has a certain threshold that is optimal for them, and it is best when reached over a given period of time. Whatever the time necessary to relieve an area/problem or reach the optimal support level, it can usually be solved based on this simple, systematic, adjustable approach.
As much as technology has helped us in the field of orthotic/pedorthic research and development, simplicity in most cases remains the critical component. Thus, enabling people in all categories from professional athletes to normal everyday folks to feel good in moderation, gradually feeling better and performing better.