Why Over the Counter Orthotics Will Hurt You in the Long Run

Aug 9, 2019

When you see a deal, the odds are often good you should get it. But not always—and especially not when it comes to effective orthotics.

Please don’t get us wrong. Budgets are definitely important, and taking measures to be more economical almost always pay off. There’s no reason not to buy in bulk, or even off-brand items when you know it’s just as good as the more expensive stuff. (Some of it is even made in the same places as the brand name goods!)

It is a different story when it comes to orthotics, however. They are all far from being made equally.  Everything that goes into making them custom orthotics specific to each patient’s condition that can make them much more preferable to those you can find pre-made in a store.

To understand why this is the case, it helps to further understand why orthotics are often recommended as a treatment in the first place.

Orthotics Provide What You Need Where You Need It

Many cases of heel pain, ankle pain, foot pain, and other maladies can be traced to some sort of imbalance in the feet. Perhaps there is an abnormality in foot structure or the manner of walking that causes weight to be unevenly distributed across the feet. This can lead to certain areas receiving much more strain than they are meant to endure, which leads to pain and injuries.

Orthotics reduce or eliminate this excess strain in couple few different ways. They can provide cushioning to areas that are enduring more stress (accommodative orthotics), and they can provide support and corrective influence against abnormal structures and gaits (functional orthotics).

To accomplish these goals, orthotics need to be composed of the right materials in the right places. This usually means softer foams for cushioning and harder plastics and graphite for control. An orthotic insert can be capable of providing both accommodative and functional duties in different spots.

Sounds pretty simple. So what’s the big deal between store-bought inserts and custom designs, then?

A Precision Approach Can be Very Important

The biggest shortfall with pre-fabricated orthotic inserts found in pharmacies and big box stores is just that: they are pre-fabricated.

These orthotics are made with varying shapes and degrees of firmness and such (which is why they tend to have those machines you can step on at the store). But is that level of choice enough for your feet and ankles?

Sometimes, yes. Many times, no.

No two feet are alike, and no two face the same exact structural or force imbalances. A store-bought orthotic might provide some relief in certain areas, but it is not built for precisely addressing conditions as much as custom orthotics are.

Custom orthotic inserts are designed with exact measurements according to a mold or cast of a patient’s feet. It puts the exact amount of cushioning, support, and control exactly where they are needed, to provide optimized results.

Remember that the feet are intricate machines made of many moving parts: bones, muscles, tendons, ligaments, and other tissues all working in tandem with each other. The more balance and support this system is provided, the better it can function overall.

This does not, however, mean that pre-fabricated inserts are useless.

We Actually Do Like Pre-Fabs (Sometimes)!

A pre-fabricated orthotic insert can be an effective form of treatment in some situations.

You can think of them sort of as a buffet, while custom orthotics are a meal at a fancy restaurant. You may not have the absolute best experience possible, catered entirely to your needs, but there is a chance you may find something good enough among the buffet selections to take the edge of your hunger.

If a pre-fabricated insert would likely work for a patient, we are more than happy to recommend one! However, we do not abide by the lower quality types you tend to find at stores.

We carry a selection of pre-fabricated inserts from brands we trust. They are not only made from better materials that are much more likely to last longer, but they also tend to have more positive effects on our patients.

Pre-fabricated orthotics might also be a better choice for children whose feet are currently growing quickly. Otherwise, custom orthotics might need many regular adjustments and refurbishments to keep up.

Just heading off to a shop to pick up any old brand of pre-fabs also denies one extremely important element of finding what you need: receiving a professional and thorough evaluation of your problem!

When we have a firm understanding of the conditions contributing to your pain, we can make much better recommendations than some step-on device at a store. This might mean orthotics, but another form of treatment might lead to even better results for you.

The Right Help to Meet Your Needs

At McVay Foot & Ankle, our goal is to provide the best treatment and recommendations for not just a patient’s physical needs, but their overall goals and lifestyle as well.

Our office in Colorado Springs is always happy to accept new patients. Call us at (719) 266-5000 to schedule an appointment. Or, if you prefer to reach out to us electronically, fill out our online contact form and a member of our staff will respond.


8580 Scarborough Dr., Ste 120
Colorado Springs, CO 80920

Mon - Fri: 8am - 5pm

*Office is closed from 12:00 PM - 1:00 PM for lunch

P: 719-266-5000
F: 719-266-6596

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