Orthotics – Enhancement vs. Detraction: Essential characteristics needed to improve athletic performance

Orthotics – Enhancement vs. Detraction: Essential characteristics needed to improve athletic performance

Orthotics for the feet have been around for over 150 years.  The initial foot orthotic device development had the basic idea of correcting foot concerns.  Handmade boots and shoes were the mainstay of the times.  Foot alignment in the boots and shoes made in the late 1890’s were as prevalent back then as they continue to remain today.

Many articles and research have been written about the foot structure, proper foot / ankle alignment.  When delving into all the written material, one may find that there is equal support for better shoe design, the development of the minimalist approach to shoes design, no shoes at all, the use of foot orthotics, and insole cushioning to help alleviate foot issues.

Today the main focus will be on whether foot orthotics can enhance athletic performance or become a detractor.  What are the essential characteristics that a foot orthotic will need in order to improve athletic performance?

If an athlete has underlying structural foot abnormalities, then foot orthotics can be a plus.  If an athlete has a prior foot or ankle injury, foot orthotics can be a plus for increased stability.  If the athlete wants to reduce or eliminate foot / ankle / lower leg pain, then a properly made and fit foot orthotic will help to complete that task.  Most often an athlete’s feet are mostly likely to be shaped differently.  Therefore the athlete can achieve a better performance benefit from a properly designed and manufactured foot orthotics.

Whether you take a pro or con stand to foot orthotics, you must look at all the research.  Longitudinal studies will best provide the knowledge one may need to make an informed decision.  At this writing there appears to be a shortage of such longitudinal research.  There is a large supply of short term studies.  These will provide the main source of knowledge available for decision making in regards to foot orthotics.  Additional information will come from the athletes that have been fitted with and use the orthotics, with their own personal input.

One of first of many of the important aspects that will lead toward a foot orthotic providing a benefit to athletic performance will be the initial evaluation of the athlete’s feet by a highly competent medical professional dealing with sports.  This individual should have performed many evaluations and written proper foot orthotic prescriptions prior to the athlete’s foot evaluation.  This step is one of high importance.  A highly skilled medical professional is a must.

Once the qualified medical person has been found, the evaluation will be the next important step.  This should last approximately an hour.  The athlete should be told to bring one of two pairs of their shoes.  Perhaps, the game day shoes, the training shoes, and / or their everyday getting around shoes.  The evaluation should even include one or two pairs of the main socks worn for the above name activities.

Once the evaluation has been completed, the next step will be to select the maker of the foot orthotic.  This will be another area of concern that must not be taken lightly.   A foot orthotic producer will most likely be recommended by your sport’s medical professional.  If the sport’s podiatrist is one that is very well accomplished, he or she will most likely already work with a very competent foot orthotic maker.

Now that all the above steps have been completed, the next step to improving the athlete’s performance will be the acquisition, the placement, evaluation and modification, if necessary. If after the athlete wears the foot orthotics for a short period of time and notices any issues that  require a foot orthotic adjustment, then proceed with that step in order to optimize the benefits from the new addition to the athlete’s arsenal.

John Hajewski is a certified strength and conditioning professional with more than 30 years of experience in the areas of health and fitness. He holds a master’s degree in Physical Education and has taught at both high school and college levels. He has served as strength and conditioning coach at University of Wisconsin Whitewater’s Division 3 football and volleyball programs. Hajewski is the author of “How to Make Your Volleyball Court a Conditioning Facility”. He has presented to the National Volleyball Coaches convention numerous times, speaking on speed, agility, and quickness development for volleyball players. Hajewski is also the owner of TopSpeed Training in River Falls, WI.


Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *