Orthotics is a branch of medicine concerned with the design, creation, and application of orthoses, which are like prostheses, only they modify the body instead of replacing body parts. Orthoses fix anomalies in your nerves, muscles, or skeleton, allowing you to heal from many injuries or genetic problems. These devices promote healing in a variety of ways, depending on the health problem:
- They limit or guide a joint or section of the body, sometimes in a given direction.
- They reduce the amount of weight that falls on certain parts of the body.
- They immobilize parts of the body where necessary.
Experts use orthotics on every part of the body, and they can help anyone who has any kind of musculoskeletal problem. Orthoses prevent further injury and sometimes correct problems Mother Nature created, like flat feet, high arches, or misalignments.
Most people are familiar with the foot-related branch of orthotics because of brands like Dr. Scholls. However, orthotics treats abnormalities all over the body, not just the feet.
Do Orthoses Treat Serious Conditions?
Orthoses help many patients with serious conditions like plantar fasciitis, arthritis, diabetes, and metatarsalgia. You’ll learn more about these conditions below.
If you have a stabbing pain around your heel or the underside of your foot, you may have this condition. The plantar fascia is a tendon connecting your heel to your toes and supporting your arch, and you develop this condition when your plantar fascia becomes inflamed.
Normally, your plantar fascia acts like a bowstring, keeping your arch intact through tension. As you run, stretch, stand, or gain weight, you put more tension on the tendon until it becomes irritated.
If you suspect you may have this condition, consult your podiatrist or physical therapist. He or she will probably recommend orthoses like heel cups or arch supports that will not only support your plantar fascia, but redistribute your weight to the rest of your foot as well. The plantar fascia will need rest in order to heal properly.
This condition usually arises with age, but you can develop it as a result of old injuries or a faulty immune system. You’ll experience joint pain, swelling, stiffness, and the limited ability or complete inability to move.
Orthotics helps you stay comfortable as arthritis advances. Orthoses can’t replace your medications, but they will decrease the wear and tear on your joints, slowing the advance of arthritis.
You may use many different kinds of orthoses depending on where arthritis strikes in your body. Orthoses are available for all your joints between your fingers and your collarbone, and orthoses are designed for every joint in your lower limbs as well. Consult with your doctor or physical therapist to find the best solution for you.
When you have diabetes, your pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin, or the cells in your body don’t respond to insulin correctly. This normally leads to dangerously high blood sugar levels in the body, and the excess blood sugar leads to all kinds of problems, including nerve damage. Common symptoms include
- Increased hunger and thirst
- Sudden weight loss
- Frequent urination
- Slow healing
- High blood pressure
- Blurred vision
However, if you ignore these symptoms, you’ll start to notice other ones as well. You may develop ulcers on your feet, and your extremities may turn pale because they don’t get enough blood. Eventually the lack of blood will cause nerve damage, and nerve damage may lead to amputation.
Orthotics keeps this damage from spreading. When your nerves are damaged, you can’t tell how hard you’re stepping or if something is unstable, hot, or sharp. You may cause further injuries to your body because you no longer feel as much pressure when you touch things around you. Orthotics keeps you from stepping or moving in a way that damages your already beleaguered body.
You may wear orthoses on your feet, or you may have to wear them on other parts of your body. Consult your doctor to learn more.
Do you feel burning or aching pain in the sole of your foot just behind your toes? You may have this condition. The pain will worsen if you stand, run, or flex your feet in any way.
Metatarsalgia has many of the same causes at plantar fasciitis. It may come from a strain during exercise, it may happen because you’re overweight, or it may occur because you have a deformity in your foot. You may even develop it as a result of wearing ill-fitting shoes.
When you have this condition, you can usually begin healing by wearing orthoses in your shoes. They’ll cushion your aching joints and redistribute your weight away from your injury so it heals correctly.
If you suspect that you have any of these conditions, contact your doctor or physical therapist; you may find that orthotics can help.