Orthotics are one of the best shoe-related inventions. Thanks to orthotics, you can wear almost any pair of shoes and have them support your foot in all the right places.
Choose your brand, your model, and your color, and simply replace the existing orthotic with one that works for your foot.
If this use orthotics, you might have some questions. Should I wear orthotics all the time? Can orthotics weaken my foot muscles? Will I need to wear orthotics forever?
All good questions! We’ll answer those and more in this article.
Should I Wear Orthotics All the Time?
How often you wear orthotics really depends on a few factors, which means there’s no single answer to this question. Consider these factors to understand what’s right for you.
What Your Orthotics Are For
Understanding your reason behind wearing orthotics will help you to figure out the best times to wear them.
For example, if you have a foot condition—like flat feet or high arches—that affects you all the time, then you might need to wear them every time you’re on your feet.
However, if you have cushioned or supportive orthotics to provide extra support while playing sports, as an example, it’s usually not necessary to wear them unless you’re playing the sport at the time.
If Your Foot Issues Affect Your Everyday Activities
If you have foot pain or discomfort that has a negative effect on your everyday activities, then you may be better off wearing your orthotic most of the day.
This will help to alleviate the pain and keep you comfortable, allowing you to move through your daily activities more efficiently.
How Often You’re On Your Feet
Being on your feet for long periods of time can leave your foot muscles feeling achy and tired, especially if they aren’t properly supported.
If you spend many hours on your feet at a time, wearing your orthotic when you’re on your feet can keep your feet properly supported and cushioned for as long as you’re standing or walking.
How Often Should I Wear My Orthotics?
With that being said, here’s a quick guide on how often you should wear your orthotics based on your own foot health.
Keep in mind that your foot structure and health can change as you age or if you’re injured, so it’s a good idea to reassess every few months.
There are a few reasons to wear your orthotics semi-permanently. If you’ve been diagnosed with a foot condition like flat feet, high arches, that’s just the natural shape of your feet, you may need to wear your orthotics every time you’re standing or walking.
This will ensure that your feet are always supported when they’re supporting your entire body weight. Orthotics don’t change the position of the feet permanently, so you’ll need to wear them every time you put your shoes on in order to make sure they stay properly supported.
Keep in mind that if your flat feet or high arches cause you pain, you may need to use orthotics even in your slippers when you’re walking around the house, in order to keep your feet as safe as possible all the time.
Other cases in which you may need permanent orthotics include if you have fat pad atrophy, chronic plantar fasciitis, or if your feet have changed shape due to a fracture.
Medium- or Short-Term Use
If you’re using orthotics for a specific activity, like sports, then you only need to wear them when you’re doing that particular activity.
For example, many sports people will wear extra-cushioned orthotics when doing high-impact activities, to offer extra protection against shock. They don’t need to be worn when you aren’t doing the sport.
Another reason you may end up wearing orthotics medium-term is if they’re being used to support your feet as you recover from an injury, surgery, or a temporary foot condition.
Once your feet are healed, then you should be able to move forward without the orthotics, but it’s advisable to check with your doctor first. You may need to keep wearing the orthotic to support your feet if they’re changed shape after the trauma.
Can Wearing Orthotics Weaken Your Feet?
If you do a quick Google search, you’ll find articles that suggest that wearing an orthotic can cause your foot muscles to weaken or increase pain.
However, before you start to worry, there’s no evidence to back that up. In most cases, those who have custom orthotics made to support their feet as they deal with various foot conditions report an increase in comfort and performance and a decrease in pain when they wear the orthotics.
If the foot muscles weakened, there would be a higher pain level and a decrease in performance, both in terms of everyday wear and sporting use.
When an orthotic supports the foot properly and helps the joints to align correctly, it can actually activate the muscles properly rather than having other muscles compensate.
The only time you may find that orthotics cause your pain to worsen—or create pain where there was none before—is if you’re wearing an orthotic that isn’t the right match for your foot.
This often happens if you continue wearing the insole that came with a new pair of shoes, or if you buy OTC orthotics that don’t quite fit.
Custom orthotics are made for your foot’s curves, so they’re not likely to cause you pain or discomfort, although there may be a “wearing in” period.
How To Strengthen Your Feet
While there’s no evidence to suggest that orthotics weaken the feet, if you wear orthotics, it may be a good idea to do foot exercises to strengthen your feet anyway.
Here are some easy foot exercises you can do at home to strengthen the muscles, which can help you to develop stronger muscles and tendons.
This is an easy exercise you can do anywhere and without any special equipment. All you need is a towel and possibly a 2-liter bottle.
Lay the towel on a flat surface and place your foot on it, close to one edge. Then, using your toes only, scrunch up the towel as much as you can, pulling the far edge closer and closer.
When that gets too easy, fill the bottle halfway with water and place it on the far edge of the towel. This will add some extra resistance, so your muscles will need to work harder to pull the towel close to you.
You can fill the bottle up fully once you get used to this. When you can scrunch the towel up with a full 2-liter water bottle on it on a carpeted surface, that’s considered to be normal foot strength.
This exercise is similar to the one above. All you need is a flat surface, a chair, a small bowl, and some marbles or ball bearings similar in size to marbles.
Sit on the chair and place the marbles on the floor in front of you. With one foot, pick up the marbles and transfer them from the floor into the bowl. Once you’ve got all of them in the bowl, empty them onto the floor again and use the other foot to do the same.
You don’t need any equipment except a chair for this exercise. Sit and place your feet flat on the floor. It may be easier to do this one foot at a time, but you can do both feet together if you want to.
Without curling or scrunching up your toes, try to “shorten your foot” by concentrating on bringing the ball of your foot closer to your heel. You do this by “doming” the arch, which basically means flexing the arch and constricting it.
It may take some practice to get this right. Make sure you aren’t curling your toes—they should stay as still as possible during the movement.
Once you’ve managed to get it right, hold it for up to 5 seconds and then release it. Do 8 to 12 repetitions. You can do this as often as you want during the day.
How Long Do Orthotics Last?
Professionally-made orthotics are designed to last three to five years, depending on their intended use.
The more often you wear them, the quicker they’ll wear out. In the same vein, the more hard use the orthotics go through, the faster they’ll flatten.
However, over-the-counter orthotics will usually not last as long as professional ones. They also don’t provide as much support and cushioning as ones designed by a professional podiatrist.
Over-the-counter orthotics will generally last about a year – or through two pairs of shoes.