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from the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons

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Orthotics

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A foot pad or heel insert purchased at your local pharmacy or sporting goods store is an orthotic device. So is a custom-molded, individually designed shoe insert or ankle brace. Orthotic devices like these are frequently used to treat various conditions of the foot and ankle. They are often very effective in relieving common complaints.

Uses

Heel insert

Heel insert

Orthotic devices may be recommended for several reasons, including:

  • aligning and supporting the foot or ankle
  • preventing, correcting or accommodating foot deformities
  • improving the overall function of the foot or ankle

For example, a wedge inserted into the inner (medial) side of the sole of a shoe can be used to help support a flatfoot, thus reducing the risk of tendinitis. An ankle-foot brace can help relieve the pain of rheumatoid arthritis in the heel or ankle. A heel flare can be used to increase support and help prevent ankle sprains. Heel cushions can help absorb impact and relieve stress on the heel and ankle when you walk or run.

Full contact orthosis

University of California Biomechanics Laboratory (UCBL) full contact orthosis

Although custom orthoses are considerably more expensive than off-the-shelf devices, they last much longer and provide more support or correction. In some cases, however, an over-the-counter device can be just as effective, particularly when combined with a stretching and exercise program.

In the past, plaster molds of the foot were used to construct the custom-made orthosis. Now, computerized foot analysis is often used to develop orthoses that more accurately reflect the dynamics of your gait.

Diagnosis Chart

The chart below shows which orthotic devices are commonly recommended for various foot conditions.

Consult your physician before buying or using an orthotic device on your own; if you select the wrong type of device, you could change the mechanics of your gait and cause problems instead of curing them.

Diagnosis chart
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Last Reviewed

September 2012

AAOS does not endorse any treatments, procedures, products, or physicians referenced herein. This information is provided as an educational service and is not intended to serve as medical advice. Anyone seeking specific orthopaedic advice or assistance should consult his or her orthopaedic surgeon, or locate one in your area through the AAOS Find an Orthopaedist program on this website.