You’ve just dropped $300-$500 US on brand spanking new orthotics, popped them into your $120 running shoes and ouch! It feels like you’re running with two planks strapped to your feet. Toe off—are you kidding? Tempo runs? No chance! And now you’re sore in areas that you never had problems in to begin with. Did you just waste big dollars on orthotics that are no good? Thankfully, the answer is usually “no,” but it is a bit complicated. To understand why this happens, we need to examine the function of orthotics and running shoes.
Orthotics, especially those prescribed for runners, are designed to correct biomechanical faults in the foot, provide shock absorbing capability and enhance proprioception—neurological feedback from the foot to the brain that allows for better coordination and control of movement. Running shoes are also designed for shock absorption and, in some models, provide biomechanical correction too.
Is the combination of a running shoe with biomechanical correction and an orthotic too much of a good thing? In some instances, yes. In other cases, maybe, maybe not.
Welcome to the gray area of matching orthotics to running shoes. This is the convoluted adventure of finding out which shoes work with your orthotics. Sometimes even when you’ve finally sorted it out, you then need a new orthotic with a different prescription or the shoe company has ‘upgraded’ the model you had once found worked with your orthotic. Either way, it may be back to trial and error.
To aid you on your quest, here are a few guidelines that may help you find the right combination:
- Get the orthotic first, and then try it in a new shoe. The orthotic is usually the bigger investment and it is made specifically for your foot. It is easier to switch shoes than orthotics.
- Test the orthotic/shoe combination on a treadmill or brief run before settling on the shoe purchase. If the gait feels unnatural or forced, try a different shoe.
- Avoid shoes with lots of motion control. Start with neutral or cushioned shoes since the orthotic is designed with biomechanical correction already built-in. A shoe designed for motion control combined with an orthotic may lead to overcorrection.
- Ask the running store staff for assistance. These folks usually know which shoes tend to be orthotic friendly. This may save you a lot of legwork in looking for the proper shoe.
- Adapt your foot to the orthotic. Roll a golf ball under the foot a few minutes per day to help speed up its ability to adapt to the new orthotic. Exercises such as picking up marbles with your toes help to strengthen the intrinsic foot muscles.
- I recommend a semi-rigid orthotic for running. This type of orthotic provides the biomechanical correction needed in most cases and also allows the foot to have normal movement and function without transmitting extra stresses up through the rest of the body.
- If these guidelines do not work, let your body be your guide. If you cannot get comfortable with your orthotics, there may be some other underlying condition that needs to be addressed and, in some instances, the orthotic may need to be adjusted.
Hopefully these tips will point you in the right direction if you are one of the many orthotic wearers (like me) trying to find the right combination of orthotics and running shoes.