Understanding How Orthotics Work

Custom orthotics are prescription footwear. They are designed by your podiatrist using models and measurements of your feet. Orthotics may be used to:

  • Support or reinforce the foot, ankle, or heel
  • Re-align an injured foot, ankle, or heel
  • Correct or prevent certain physical deformities
  • Improve function

In most cases, custom orthotics are designed to address and mitigate a particular complaint, such as recurring heel pain or weakened muscles. The two most common types of custom orthotics are:

Full-Contact Orthotics

A full-contact orthotic is an orthotic that supports the entire foot. Podiatrists typically recommend full-contract orthotics to patients who have been diagnosed with flat feet and other conditions requiring support and re-alignment.

Heel Insert Orthotics

A heel insert provides cushion and support to the heel. Most heel inserts are used to treat chronic heel pain and recurring heel-related conditions, like plantar fasciitis and Achilles tendonitis.

Custom orthotics can be used to treat a wide range of other conditions. As prescription devices, they are almost always made for a specific set of purposes and are, therefore, typically much more effective than mass-produced, over-the-counter consumer products.

When to Talk to Your Podiatrist About Heel Pain 

Heel pain typically improves on its own, either without treatment or through the application of low-intensity home remedies. If your heel pain is not interfering with your ability to work, rest, or sleep, you could benefit from over-the-counter painkillers, icing, and new shoes.

However, heel pain that is severe—or that does not resolve after two to three weeks—may necessitate a professional assessment. You should schedule an appointment with your podiatrist if you have any of the following signs or symptoms:

Persistent Pain

Heel pain that persists for more than a few days, even with rest and home remedies, may indicate an underlying problem that requires medical attention.

Severe Pain

Intense or severe heel pain that limits your ability to walk, stand, or perform daily activities should be evaluated by a doctor.

Pain Upon Waking

If you experience significant pain in the heel when taking your first steps in the morning or after periods of rest, it could be a sign of conditions like plantar fasciitis or Achilles tendonitis.

Swelling or Inflammation

Swelling, redness, or warmth in the heel area may indicate an inflammatory condition or injury that requires medical assessment.

Limited Range of Motion

Difficulty moving the foot or ankle, along with heel pain, could be a sign of a more serious issue, such as a fracture or joint problem.


Developing a noticeable limp due to heel pain may indicate an underlying problem that needs medical attention.

Numbness or Tingling

Sensations of numbness or tingling in the heel, foot, or toes could be related to nerve involvement or compression and should be evaluated by a doctor.

Visible Deformity

If there is a noticeable change in the shape or appearance of the heel, such as a lump or protrusion, it may indicate a structural problem that requires examination.

Difficulty Bearing Weight

If you find it difficult or painful to put weight on the affected heel, it's important to consult a doctor to rule out fractures or other serious injuries.

History of Trauma

If you have recently experienced a fall, impact, or injury to the heel, seeking medical evaluation is essential to ensure there are no fractures or soft tissue damage.

History of Chronic Conditions

Individuals with conditions such as diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis are more susceptible to foot and heel problems. If you have a history of such conditions, regular check-ups and prompt attention to heel pain are important.

Recurring Pain

Heel pain that comes and goes over time or recurs after previous treatment may indicate an underlying condition that needs thorough assessment and management.

Inability to Find Relief

If home remedies, such as rest, ice, or over-the-counter pain medications, do not provide relief from heel pain, consulting a doctor is necessary to determine the cause and appropriate treatment.

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, a custom orthotic may be the solution you are looking for.

Dr. P. Roman Burk
Providing experienced private practice podiatry services in the Caldwell and Meridian, ID area since 2007.