Are Custom Orthotics Good for Athletes?
Many people have a mistaken impression about custom orthotics.
They imagine that they’re bulky, heavy, and uncomfortable. That they are only for people with severe foot deformities or diabetic neuropathy. That there’s no way you can ever hope to run, or play basketball, or do anything active or exciting in them.
Well, think again.
The truth is that the right pair of custom orthotics can be extremely beneficial for athletes of all ability levels. In fact, even many professional athletes use them to stay in the game and boost their performance!
Let’s talk about some of the reasons why.
Potential Major Benefits of Custom Orthotics for Athletes
To be clear, every set of feet is unique. And every sport (and even positions or styles of play within that sport) poses its own challenges for feet and ankles. Not every athlete will need custom orthotics, and even those who do may need them for different reasons.
That being said, here are some of the most common ways athletes can benefit from their custom orthotics:
They Can Lower Your Risk of Injury and Pain
The simplest and perhaps best reason would be this one.
Athletes put a lot of stress on their feet, particularly those who do a lot of running, play on hard surfaces, or just carry a lot of weight and muscle with them every day.
That can be tough to deal with even if you have a fairly “neutral” foot structure, so if you also have flat feet, high arches, overpronation, or other structural or biomechanical issues to deal with, your risk of injuries and chronic pain may be even higher.
The right set of custom orthotics, then, can provide the extra support, cushioning, and stability in just the right amounts and in just the right places to offset these problems. This helps you reduce your risk of injury.
They Can Allow You to Train Harder
From a performance aspect, one important consequence of reducing your risk of injuries and chronic pain is that you can also typically increase the duration and intensity of your practices and workouts before foot pain or fatigue forces you to quit.
To be clear, we’re not saying that as soon as you put your orthotics on you can massively ramp up your activities in a short period of time. We always recommend gradual increases (10-15 percent per week) to give your body time to adjust.
But it is true that, when your feet are better supported and in better alignment, it can enable you to push yourself harder and reach new heights in your training. For athletes looking for an extra edge, or just outdoor lovers who prefer to spend every possible waking moment on the trails, that can make a huge difference.
They Can Help You Move More Efficiently (and Improve Balance, Speed, and Agility)
An athlete in peak physical form can stop and change directions on a dime, or transition from standing to sprinting or leaping in a split second. And behind every move, from the most nimble to the most explosive, the feet and ankles are going through several complex maneuvers to make it all happen as efficiently as possible—transferring weight and energy, and translating powerful muscle contractions into forward motion.
If, however, your feet are misaligned or structured in a way that reduces their efficiency, more of that energy and power generated by your legs gets “lost in translation.” Joints and muscles throughout the body have to compensate for biomechanical inefficiencies of your feet, which results in wasted energy and faster fatigue.
Because the right pair of orthotics can also significantly improve the biomechanical alignment of your lower body, you can increase the efficiency of your movements. That ultimately can lead to greater speed, agility, and power for the same level of effort.
Consider that the baseball pitchers who throw the hardest fastballs, the golfers who hit the longest drives, and the tennis players who crush the biggest serves aren’t always the tallest or physically strongest players in their sport. While physical size and strength are certainly obvious advantages, biomechanical efficiency is also a huge factor, and one that custom orthotics in particular can help with.
Finding the Right Pair
Now that you understand how orthotics may be able to help you and your game, you might be tempted to head out to the pharmacy this afternoon and grab a cheap pair of insoles off the shelf.
You could do that, of course. But we really wouldn’t recommend that—especially for those who plan to use their orthotics for sports or heavy exercise.
For one, cheap insoles aren’t built to last, and that’s doubly true if you’re going to be putting them through intense activity. So don’t be surprised if they disintegrate within only a few months, if not weeks.
But more importantly, orthotics are precision tools (like prescription eyewear, for example), and a set that doesn’t properly address the specific needs of your feet isn’t likely to provide much benefit. In fact, the wrong pair may actually do some harm if they alter your biomechanics without actually improving them.
What you should do instead is make an appointment with the Community Foot Clinic of McPherson. We are specialists when it comes to analyzing your foot structure and gait mechanics, determining what type of orthotic (if any) you require, and ensuring that your new orthotics fit your feet (and your athletic shoes) perfectly, providing exactly what you need from them.