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Orthotics and Orthotic Devices

Mark W. McFarland, DO

What exactly is an Orthotic and what does it do?

In this article, I hope to help you understand the important role they play in helping patients who have musculoskeletal issues. An orthotic is a device that supports and stabilizes a joint or weakened/injured body part, creating proper alignment, pressure relief and management of pain.

orthoticsSome examples of Orthotics are:

• braces
• shoe inserts
• heel cups
• padding
• diabetic shoes
• custom shoes
• facemasks for athletic use
• slings
• post-surgical bracing

You can buy orthotics at your local Wal-greens or Rite Aid. Or you can spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on custom-made orthotics hand-crafted by a certified Orthotist. An Orthotist is a medical provider who has a Masters Degree in Prosthetics and Orthotics, which requires two years of study. The Orthotist then spends 18-24 months in a residency program.
There are pros and cons to buying either mass-produced Orthotics or Custom-made orthotics. Those will be discussed in detail so that you can decide which may be right for your specific need.
Off-the Shelf Orthotics (Drugstore)
There is a certainly a need for these orthotics. It may be that your feet hurt and you need padding or a heel cup.
• Relatively inexpensive
• Don’t need a prescription to purchase
• Doesn’t require an office visit to an orthotist
• Materials don’t last long/break down
• Not customized to your specific needs
• Can’t address multiple musculoskeletal or medical conditions well

Custom-Made Orthotics

You may want to consider this option if you have a musculoskeletal problem that has not resolved over time or an off the Shelf orthotic has not worked or lasted. You will have to have a consult with a medical provider and if they deem it appropriate, they will refer you to an Orthotist for a consultation.
Your consultation with an Orthotist can include questions about your profession/job, lifestyle and activity level, pain or disability level and what activity you want to do. They will ask about what treatments have been tried or if you have seen a Physical Therapist. Gait observation, range-of-motion and other testing appropriate for your diagnosis will also be done. Your physician may indicate exactly what orthotic is desired or may leave it to the discretion of your Orthotist to find the proper orthotic for your specific needs after consultation.


• Can be off-the-shelf or custom-made
• Wider range of options
• Better materials are used
• Longer lasting wear
• Intimate fit of orthotic (not trying to make one size fit all)
• Can address multiple issues and more planes (how the body part moves 3 dimensionally in space)

• Cost can be expensive and some items may not be covered by insurance
• Must have a prescription from a Physician, PA or Doctor of Physical Therapy

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