Orthotics: Custom-made or OTC? by Dr. Bruce Pinker

Everyone loves a champion.  Whether you’re a New York Giants fan or a New England Patriots fan, we all love to win.  And winning involves making the right decisions.  Recently, there has been a lot of discussion in the media about Dr. Scholl’s “custom fit” orthotic inserts.  The company claims to help individuals make decisions as to which type of orthotic is right for him/her through a computerized foot analysis called “foot mapping.”  This approach to foot care is extremely flawed and misleading to the consumer.

The term “orthotic” originates from the Greek word “ortho” meaning “to straighten” or “align.”  Orthotics are medical devices proven to be most effective when custom made.  The Dr. Scholl’s product is not custom made.  Instead, it is pre-fabricated and their computer program is simply telling people which one of the pre-made choices is right for them.  When an orthotic device is custom made, it is prescribed, much like a medication.  There are several different specifications that can be added to a custom orthotic by a podiatric physician, such as rearfoot and forefoot postings that modify the angulation of the foot as it is cradled and controlled by the device.  These devices can  be very helpful in reducing pain caused by neuromas (inflamed nerves often found between the third and fourth toes), heel spurs and plantar fasciitis, metatarsalgia/bursitis (inflammation at the ball of the foot), and bunions (deformities in the great toe region).

Custom made orthotics are traditionally created from a plaster mold of the foot or a specialized computer-scan (much different from the machine used by Dr. Scholl).  Custom devices can provide shock absorption, support, cushion, and biomechanical control of one’s feet.  There are definitive types for all different varieties of men’s and women’s shoes and sneakers.  Orthotics can also be specially designed/prescribed for certain athletic activities.  The alignment of the rearfoot/heel is critical for providing relief of pain and discomfort, and will insure proper support of the foot and ankle, translating that strength to the knee, hip, and lower back regions.

The Dr. Scholl’s insert is not effective in helping those who suffer from significantly painful conditions.  Simply, it is a foot cushion with added plastic support dispersed generically.  For those who have serious foot pain, Dr. Scholl’s product may prolong the suffering or worsen the condition.

Custom made orthotics are like the “eyeglasses for the feet” – as eyeglasses help one to see better, these devices help one to stand, walk, and run better.  While custom made are higher priced than OTC, the value and benefits are dramatically greater for custom types as they last much longer (three to five years) and are prescribed specifically to address the patient’s concerns.  Most podiatrists fabricate their orthotics from graphite, polyproplene, or cork/leather materials with layers of poron, spenco, and leather for top-layer cushion/support.  Orthotics are just as specific to one’s feet as dentures are to one’s teeth.

Having the proper support for one’s feet can provide greatly improved function and overall wellness.  The decision as to which type of custom made orthotic is right for the individual should be left to the podiatric physician.  Choosing the right type of orthotic device can mean the difference between winning and losing.

Taking good care of your feet can be your first step towards good health.  Remember, your feet are the foundation for your body.

I have not received any compensation for posting this content. The views expressed in this guest blog do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of HJMT. Individual links could be associated with affiliate marketing sites and through the use of affiliate links contained herein, I may collect fees from purchases made.
This article was written by Dr. Bruce Pinker, DPM, AACFAS, AAPWCA. You can reach him at
Phone: (914) 328 8000 (White Plains, NY) and (845) 354 – 2700 (Pomona, NY)
Facebook: Progressive Foot Care of White Plains, NY and Pomona, NY
Twitter: docpinker4feet
Dr. Bruce Pinker, DPM, AACFAS, AAPWCA
Associate, American College of Foot & Ankle Surgeons
Associate, American Professional Wound Care Association
Specialist, Foot & Ankle Sports Medicine/Diabetic Foot Care
Professional Health & Wellness Speaker
P  R  O  G  R  E  S  S  I  V  E      F  O  O  T      C  A  R  E
978 Rt. 45, Suite # 109, Pomona, NY  10970   Tel: (845) 354- 2700
199 Main St., Suite #608, White Plains, NY  10601   Tel: (914) 328 – 8000
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