Running retailers offer so much more these days than just running shoes and running clothing. Video gait analysis, foot scanning, and even ‘orthoses’ are among the very things you could be offered these days. Orthoses are corrective insoles in your running shoes intended to help runners overcome problems with their running gait. Find out whether orthotics could help you.
Running orthoses and orthotics – what are they?
‘Orthoses’ are commonly referred to as ‘orthotics’ but although the two words are linked, there is a distinct difference in meaning between them:
The term ‘orthoses’ covers a wide range of splints and supports for the body but with reference to running and gait correction, orthoses are simply custom-made corrective shoe inserts.
Orthotics is the science of designing orthoses for the feet to correct postural problems, to overcome weaknesses and imbalances and to improve the function of the body. It has erroneously started to be the term used by runners when referring to the corrective insoles.
For the purposes of this article we refer to orthotics and orthoses interchangeably.
The 'off-the-shelf' running solution
If you require orthoses, the fitting process can be quite lengthy and involve casts being taken of your feet and repeat appointments. However, with technological advances, an increasingly popular option is to have corrective insoles made for your gait problem on a ‘while-you-wait’ basis. These insoles can last for hundreds and hundreds of miles which means they will have a similar lifespan to your running shoes.
How do 'off-the-shelf' running orthoses get fitted?
The fitting process is straightforward, typically takes about one hour and runs as follows:
- Your running style is assessed, which will usually involve video gait analysis and pressure plate testing.
- Leg functional flexibility tests are conducted to build up a comprehensive picture of your particular requirements.
- Your replacement insoles are heated in an oven to make them malleable so that they can mould to the contours of your feet.
- The warm replacement insoles are placed either under your feet or into your shoes.
- When you’re either standing on a special jig or wearing your existing running shoes, your feet are then realigned into the correct position by a specialist.
- While you maintain the correct position, the insoles gradually cool and harden. Note that the insoles are still flexible, comfortable and maintain their cushioning properties when they’ve cooled.
- Once the insoles have cooled, your foot will now be prevented from any excessive pronation or supination movements, resulting in correct alignment. Initially, wearing the insoles can take a little getting used to – but you’ll find that your body, gait and running style rapidly adapts.
How can orthoses help my running?
Many runners have imbalances or gait problems which, if left unattended, can result in discomfort, pain and also injury, particularly during the repetitive action of running, when the foot hits the ground typically a thousand times every mile. If a runner has a gait problem, distance running can eventually take its toll, resulting in injury.
However, by realigning the foot, ankle and lower leg into the correct position and preventing extraneous movement, correctly prescribed orthoses can resolve a number of gait problems and prevent injury. For example, a runner who has a biomechanical problem with their gait can benefit from orthoses because they will be able to:
- Reposition their feet into the correct plane so that their feet move through the gait cycle correctly.
- Ensure that their weight is more evenly distributed.
- Restore their natural foot function.
These corrections can alleviate pain and discomfort when standing or walking but can also be extremely helpful in the more dynamic action of running, where the movement of and the forces on the feet are more pronounced.
Which running conditions can orthotics help?
Orthotics can help a wide variety of foot and lower leg conditions, from problems with the sole of the foot such as bunions and blisters to more biomechanical conditions such as excessive pronation or supination (i.e. excessive movement of the foot during the gait cycle) – plus they can also help a wide variety of injuries right up to the knees, the hips and even the lower back.
However, orthoses are frequently most effective when prescribed in conjunction with rehabilitation exercises such as specific stretches or exercises to correct muscle imbalances. So, if you are being fitted with corrective insoles, it is important to ensure that a comprehensive biomechanical assessment of your limbs is also carried out. Here are two common conditions that orthoses can help with:
Pain and inflammation of the achilles tendon at the base of the calf can be exacerbated through excessive pronation (where the foot rolls inwards too much before toe-off). This pronation problem can be addressed via a corrective insole which stabilises the foot by preventing the excessive inward roll. However, achilles tendonitis is rarely caused by excessive pronation alone. Inflexibility is often a contributory factor too, and so stretching exercises and possibly sports therapy to help return the tendon to its correct length are essential to fully treat the problem.
Flat feet are one of the most common conditions that orthoses can help. Flat feet are caused by fallen arches which results in an excessive inward rotation of the leg during movement. This unnatural rotation can lead to ankle, knee, hip, pelvis and lower-back injuries – and if you suffer from flat feet, a prescription of flexibility training will not help the condition, whereas orthoses will. A correctly prescribed pair of orthoses or replacement footbeds will support the arch and prevent the foot collapsing inwards. No physiological change is made to the body – so if you remove the orthoses from your shoes then the condition will remain, which is why it is important to always wear your orthoses when, for example, you change into different running shoes.
Orthoses helping your running
Many runners suffer from problems that can frequently be traced back to a gait problem. Correctly prescribed orthoses and similar replacement insoles can make a huge difference to both a runner’s efficiency through the gait cycle as well as reducing pain and preventing injury. If you’ve never considered how orthoses could benefit you before, it might be time to consider a custom-made solution that could get you back running or simply keep you running for longer.