Big topic, big statement, right?
Before you begin reading you most likely fall into 1 of the three categories:
1 – You are currently considering or wearing orthotics and love them! They have taken your pain away and have been a god sent! You are thinking, hey Lindsay, don’t be hating on my magical foam inserts, ok?
2 – You are wearing them but feel pain when you don’t wear them(at the cottage, at home, during a yoga class…etc) so you are curious what I have to say.
3 – You have never used orthotics (but heard of them) and you are curious about what I have to say.
I am a physiotherapist and have been for the past 4 years. When I was 8, as a pigeon-toed kid, orthotics were prescribed to me and thus started my long-term relationship.
While orthotics did mostly take away my pain when I wore them, if I wore flat shoes, was barefoot in my house or at the beach, I would have hip and low back pain. I had to break-up with flip flops in the summer and needed to wear indoor shoes in my house even on hot summer days. I won’t’ even mention the thick-soled granny sandals I was forced to wear (which was DEVESTATING as a teenager).
Fast forward a few years after completing my undergrad and then master’s degree at Queen’s university for physiotherapy. As a physiotherapist, I found myself on my feet all day and my legs felt tired, heavy and sore on a daily basis which was incredibly frustrating.
As a physio I started to both prescribe and sell orthotics to my patients on the premise it would alleviate pain by ‘fixing’ biomechanical alignment—it mostly worked for me after all.
Completely by accident about 3 years into my career as a physio I started working out at home instead of the gym and often I just didn’t feel like putting my shoes and orthotics on. I started noticing that my balance with lunges and single leg exercises was dramatically improving and I wasn’t reaching for my indoor sandals and shoes as much to prevent low back pain while I was cooking (which was usually one of the worst things because of the tile floors in the kitchen).
Fast forward again to starting at Taylored Training as a physiotherapist in the Fall of 2017. I then decided to embrace the barefoot philosophies of the owners, coaching team and my fellow physiotherapist Cassie and truly give it a chance!
I started both treating my patients in the clinic barefoot and training barefoot and since my start I have completely disowned my orthotics and ‘sensible shoes’ for flats or barefeet.
My results you are wondering?
I have no more back and hip pain, my balance and agility are better, I don’t feel like my legs are heavy and fatigued by the end of the day and my super flat feet actually now have a pretty arch starting to form from the muscles getting so much stronger!
Here is my advice for you:
The human foot has an incredible design. The foot contains 33 joints, 19 muscles, and over 100 ligaments, all acting together to create the arch and foundation of support/control for the body and every joint above it. In order for your foot to do its job it must be mobile, stable, strong and work together with the rest of your body (most importantly your hips and your core).
A big problem is that many of us are losing the ability to use our bodies as they were designed to work and function mostly because our bodies and feet are subjected to these 3 unnatural conditions:
1 – Sitting.
Sitting tightens our hips and inhibits our glutes and hip stabilizers, as well as modifying our posture. The hips control everything downstream of them, so uncontrolled hips mean trouble for the knee, ankle, and foot. Not only do most clients I see sit at a desk for their work, some also train and do fitness in this seated position further tightening the hips even more under load.
2 – Thick soled shoes.
Thick soled shoes create an artificial and restrictive environment for our feet. Most shoes prevent the toes from splaying, put our intrinsic foot muscles to sleep and prevent the joints of the foot from articulating properly. Shoes with an elevated heel modify the biomechanics of walking and force us to make compensations at every joint upstream of the feet whenever we are on them.
3 – Orthotics.
Last but not least, orthotics are prescribed as an easy fix but in most cases contribute to further foot dysfunction. They artificially provide support to the feet, further weakening the intrinsic foot musculature and most of the time they alter the foots natural function. While orthotics can provide a short term solution, they key is teaching our clients how to better strengthen and use their feet naturally, providing a life long solution as well as preventing other injuries common to not having a strong foundation at the feet.
The human foot is designed to work best with nothing modifying it, plain and simple! It is up to us as physiotherapists and coaches to teach our clients how to best train, control and take care of our feet in order to move better, train better, play better and ultimately feel better!
** For more info on barefoot training check out this read on barefoot training which is how I started my transition – http://tayloredtraining.ca/movement-recovery/why-we-think-barefoot-is-best/