How can I know if orthotics will help my osteoarthritis?

Diana Meeks
Diana Meeks on behalf of Sigma Nursing
Family Practitioner

There is inconsistent evidence on the effectiveness of foot orthotics in relieving osteoarthritis symptoms. Some studies find that they reduce pain and stiffness, and that people using them were able to cut down on pain medication. Other research finds they provide limited, if any, benefit.

Since the heel is in contact with the ground during 30 percent to 40 percent of each step, a full length in-shoe lateral wedge is considered more effective than a heel wedge because the foot can connect with the entire orthotic throughout the entire step to get the maximum benefit of the wedge. In-shoe inserts can correct improper knee adduction, which is the movement of the knee while you walk, and act as a shock absorber to take some stress off the damaged knee.

Talk to your doctor to see if using an orthotic is right for you.

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

Foot orthotics are inserts that fit into your shoes and provide support and cushioning for foot joints with osteoarthritis (OA). Orthotics aim to realign the feet, redistribute your weight more evenly and cushion the feet from the impact of walking.

Overall, orthotics can reduce stress on painful joints in the foot, ankle and knee. For osteoarthritis, doctors and podiatrists usually recommend orthotics made from a mixture of cushioning materials and rigid, supportive material. Orthotics are usually custom-made and can cost upward of several hundred dollars.

Foot orthotics help some people with OA, but they don't help everyone. If you want to try foot orthotics for your OA, talk to your doctor or podiatrist first to see if they're right for you.

Donna Hill Howes, RN
Family Practitioner

To evaluate you for orthotics if you have osteoarthritis, your doctor will conduct a thorough exam. He or she may take x-rays to determine the severity and location of your osteoarthritis as well as the general shape and alignment of your knees. If you have x-rays from previous years, your doctor may be interested in seeing those to compare.

The doctor will also evaluate how you walk and the range of motion in your knee. The doctor will discuss with you the benefits and risks of orthotics. Once you start using the orthotics, it may take several visits for the doctor to fine-tune them to be most comfortable. Keeping a pain diary can help document your symptoms for yourself and your doctor.

David Hogarth
Physical Therapy Specialist

It is possible, as Dr. Oz and the Honor Society of Nursing have already noted, but the situation has to be right. One reason for the noted variability in the research is the wide range of both orthotic types and osteoarthritic knee pain.

Biomechanically, perhaps the most likely situation in which an orthotic would be effective to reduce arthritic knee pain would be if you demonstrated excessive pronation of the foot and leg during weight bearing. Basically, think of pronation as inward rotation of the foot, leg and knee. If your arthritic pain tended to be on the inside aspect of your knee, then effective reduction in leg pronation via an appropriate foot orthotic could reduce the mechanical stress at the knee. The arthritis would still be there; just your pain would be less, because the stress is less.

If this excessive pronation is indeed your specific movement problem and foot orthotics prove to be somewhat helpful. You could increase your chance of pain reduction via some basic stretching and strengthening exercises to reduce the pronation tendency as well.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.