A new study being conducted at one of the nation’s top podiatric medical colleges looks to better understand a device that many podiatrists prescribe everyday in their practices—customized foot orthotics, also referred to in the medical community as orthoses.
The three-year study, funded by the American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA), is currently investigating the success rate of foot orthotics in the treatment of patients suffering from plantar heel pain—an ailment that many podiatrists are able to treat successfully with prescription orthotics. The study, which will focus on a total of 300 patients, ages 18-75, is also comparing prescription orthotics to over-the-counter, prefabricated insoles—another common recommendation for managing heel pain.
"We are trying to better understand how well custom foot orthotics prescribed by podiatric physicians compare with over-the-counter insoles and pre-fabricated insoles to reduce or eliminate heel pain, and improve a patient’s quality of life," said Dr. James Wrobel, podiatrist and interim director of Scholl’s Center for Lower Extremity Ambulatory Research (CLEAR) at Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science in North Chicago.
Dr. Wrobel added that this research study is the first of its kind to measure how specific foot types, such as low and high arches, respond to certain specific treatments, including custom orthotics.
Prescription orthotics are custom-made shoe inserts that help to correct faulty foot function, or to remedy foot pain. Sometimes referred to as prescription "arch supports," many podiatrists can measure a patient’s foot for an orthotic device in just minutes. The in-office process often includes either taking a cast mold of the patient’s foot or taking a digital image to obtain the patient’s distinct arch and heel pattern needed to fit the orthotics. After custom manufacturing, the finalized orthotic is fitted and dispensed to the patient with specific instructions for wear.
"Prescription foot orthotics are an important treatment that a podiatrist uses to help our patients recover from painful injuries and return to an active lifestyle," said Dr. Ronald D. Jensen, APMA president. "Such as with many other prescribed medical treatments, it is vital that evidence-based, statistical data be gathered in a scientific environment to support the use of custom foot orthotics for patient care."
Prescription foot orthotics, which often last several years before replacement is needed, customarily fall into three broad categories: those that primarily attempt to change foot function, those that are primarily protective in nature, and those that combine functional control and protection. They are often used as a conservative treatment by podiatrists before considering more intrusive means of correction, such as surgery.
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