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What is the difference between an off the shelf orthotic and a custom device?

My colleague Loretta touched on orthotic therapy in our blog several months ago. Our blog today will expand on that a little further and discuss the difference between off the shelf or “pre-fabricated orthotics” and custom made orthotic devices.

There is more to an orthotic than just being an “arch-support” device. This is why you need to be careful with over the counter devices from the supermarket or chemist. Your foot-print does not tell the whole story. An orthotic is designed to properly balance both the rearfoot and forefoot to give proper alignment, support and motion-control and thus requires a prescription to optimize foot function. A person’s medical history also needs to be factored into the equation.

A custom orthotic is made from a direct cast or digital scan of your feet and should match their contour, while also holding them in a more stable position. Custom devices are, by far, the best product for your feet. They will usually last around 5-10 years, depending on the materials used and the patient wearing them. It is not able to be fitted to another person, as it has been designed and manufactured to meet the specific needs of the individual. Therefore, a clinical assessment and consultation by your podiatrist will ensure that your entire body or limb segment is assessed and the full range of orthotic treatment options considered.

A pre-fabricated or off-the-shelf orthotic is a pre-made device often prescribed for short term use or in the case of non-complex clinical presentations. It is also important to note that all pre-fabricated orthoses can be modified and customised (if necessary) to fit the client and ensure the treatment goals are met, and the best functional outcome obtained.

Whilst these orthotics tend to provide less support than custom made orthotics and are not as durable, in some occasions they are more than adequate. Your podiatrist will tell you which type of orthotics will best suit you based on your footwear, age, foot type and the problems you have with your feet or legs.

What are some common conditions orthotics are used for?

No two feet are the same and therefore the reasons that orthotics are prescribed also varies greatly. Most commonly orthotics are used to treat pain and discomfort in the feet, some examples of conditions of the feet which orthotics may help with include:

  • Plantar fasciitis (heel pain and pain along the arches of the feet),
  • Flat feet: orthotics can improve the foot and leg position and help prevent the development of various issues associated with flat feet,
  • Bunions: orthotics can help slow the progression of bunions and reduce pain
  • Arthritis: orthotics can help prevent further joint degeneration as well as reduce joint pain
  • Corns and callus: depending on the location and the cause of the corns and callus orthotics may be beneficial in reducing the build-up of dead skin
  • Knee and hip pain: orthotics have been shown to help reduce pain in joints other than the feet if the problem is caused by poor alignment.

These are just a few common examples of cases where orthotics may be beneficial. Keep in mind that not every foot problem can be treated with orthotics.

If you are experiencing any pain or discomfort in your feet or legs or you have noticed that your ankles roll in a lot when you are walking than it would be a good idea to see a podiatrist for an assessment.

If you book in for a biomechanical assessment with your podiatrist be sure to bring in a few pairs of your shoes with you as shoes play a huge role in orthotic therapy and the treatment of foot ailments.


Until next time,


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Shop 2/17-19 East Parade
Sutherland, NSW 2232

Tel: 02 9542 3491