If you’ve ever bought cheap, flimsy arch supports off the rack at a pharmacy or grocery store, you know that such inserts usually aren’t “long for the world.” Daily use will break them down in a hurry, sometimes in as little as a couple of months.
Custom orthotics, thankfully, are much more durable. You can expect a good pair to last at least a year, and many last 3-5 years—or sometimes even longer.
But that being said, custom orthotics are not invincible. Sooner or later, even the best custom-made orthotics will break down, or at least stop working as well as they could or should.
And because it’s not always possible to predict how long your pair will last—and new pairs may take a couple of weeks to fabricate—it can be extremely helpful to recognize when your orthotics are nearing the end of their lifespan before they reach a critical point. That way, you can be sure to replace (or sometimes repair or refurbish) your orthotics without having to go through a long, painful “transition” process between pairs!
Common Signs Your Orthotics May Be Due for an Update
If you wear custom orthotics, the following scenarios could indicate that either a “tune-up” or replacement of your existing pair may be in order.
- Pain has started to return. If your feet are starting to hurt again, major alarm bells should be ringing in your mind. There are, of course, many possible reasons for a return of pain. But if you are continuing to wear your orthotics every day as directed and the pain is back, it is very likely that you’ll need an orthotics adjustment.
- You notice visible signs of wear. You shouldn’t have to worry about things like minor discoloration or surface scratches (if they aren’t in a spot that could irritate your skin, of course). But if you notice more serious structural problems like cracks, folds, warping, or compression, call us immediately. This is especially important for people with neuropathy, who may not be able to “feel” when orthotics are no longer working properly. If you have trouble feeling your feet, make sure you pull your orthotics out of your shoes regularly in order to check them.
- You notice unusual wear patterns on your shoe treads. If you have functional custom orthotics, they have been designed to help realign your feet and your gait patterns so that weight across the foot is distributed in a biomechanically “normal” way. This should result in fairly even tread wear across the middle of the heels and the balls of the feet. If you find unusual or uneven patterns (excessive wear along the inside or outside, or differences between the left and right foot) it may indicate a biomechanical problem.
- You’ve had a recent major life or lifestyle change. This is a broad category, but includes things like a recent surgery, significant change in body weight, new job, pregnancy, etc. Custom orthotics are made for a particular person at a particular point in time, so significant changes that affect either your activity level or your body generally may affect the effectiveness of your orthotics. This does not necessarily mean you will definitely need new orthotics, but it’s something to watch out for—especially if you notice pain.
Proactive Steps That Can Help Keep the Pain Away
Even if you know the warning signs, it’s still very useful and beneficial to take a proactive approach. You really shouldn’t have to wait for pain to become noticeable to start the orthotics update process, and taking a few extra steps can help reduce that risk as much as possible.
The two biggest proactive steps you can take are these:
- Get an annual orthotics checkup. It’s a great idea to see us at least once per year for an orthotics review appointment—even if you haven’t noticed any problems with your current pair. Just like “routine maintenance” on a car (or regular checkups with your general practitioner or eye doctor), annual orthotics checkups help us identify early problems and make necessary adjustments before they become severe.
- Get a second (or third) pair. If you have multiple pairs of orthotics, not only do they all last longer (since you’re spreading the wear and tear around), but you have backups available in case one set is lost or damaged. We strongly feel this is a good investment for almost all of our orthotics patients—and if you have an insurance plan that covers a new pair every set period of time, it’s practically a no-brainer to take advantage of it.
Dealing with foot pain? Thinking you might need orthotics—or have an existing pair that needs a good “once-over” from an expert? Give Rocky Mountain Foot & Ankle a call. We’d be happy to help you with whatever foot care you may need.