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Dr Robinson Taylor Health Clinic

Orthotics How They Have Evolved From Custom-Made To Over-The-Counter

Orthotics refers to a branch of the medical field that has to do with the development, manufacture and use of orthoses. The term orthoses refers to devices that are specially designed and fitted into a particular part of the body to realign, correct deformities, support injuries, increase mobility, reduce pain and hasten healing.

A while back, customised orthotics were the only available option, which is to say that the patient who needed it had one designed and fitted just for him or her. No one else could use this kind of orthosis because measurements were made to fit just that particular patient. These days you can get orthoses over the counter at the chemist or drug store near you because they can be made to fit everyone.

The Challenges Of Over the Counter Orthoses

Orthoses are mainly used to ease many foot complaints. While it is convenient for you to go to the drug store and simply pick a couple of orthoses, they are not without challenges. First and foremost, you are not a doctor so you will not know the cause of the pain you may be experiencing in your foot or elsewhere. An orthosis may be the last thing you need.

Buying over the counter orthoses can completely alter your gait because you may be treating an area of your body that has no problem at all causing it to get deformed over time. It may cost a little more to consult your doctor, but it is well worth it.

The above disadvantages are not to say that pre-made orthotics do not help completely. On the contrary they work beautifully for some people. Some are even made in such a way that they mould themselves to your foot or ankle when heat is applied.

Types of Orthotics

There are several types of Orthoses including the following:

Upper limb orthoses – clavicular and shoulder, arm, functional arm and elbow orthoses fall in this category 

Lower limb orthoses are used on the lower body. These are the most commonly used orthotics. They offer support to the pelvis, knees, heels and feet.

Spinal orthoses are used in the treatment of scoliosis and spinal fractures.

Upper limb orthoses

Hand orthoses

Upper extremity orthoses

Forearm wrist hand orthoses

Forearm wrist thumb orthoses 

Forearm wrist orthoses


Lower limb orthoses

Foot orthoses

Knee orthoses

Ankle orthoses

Knee-ankle-foot orthoses  

Prophylactic braces


Spinal orthoses

Includes all the devices 

used in the treatment of

scoliosis and spinal fractures



Uses of Orthoses

The main reason why people require orthoses is to improve foot biomechanics. Most orthoses names point directly to where and what they are used for e.g. the spinal orthoses are used to correct spinal deformities.

It is important to note that orthoses are a great non-invasive, non-surgical way of treating pathologies. Ailments such as arthritis, diabetes, traumatic injuries, neurological conditions, sports injuries and congenital conditions can all benefit greatly from the use of orthoses.

For patients with diabetic neuropathy, orthoses can be used as a prophylactic measure to prevent certain specific problems. Metatarsalgia and plantar fasciitis can also be treated using orthoses.

Custom orthoses are made using foot mold or cast, and they include accommodative orthoses, rigid orthoses, semi-rigid orthoses and the partial foot prostheses.

Orthoses can also be used to treat corns, bunions, cavus feet, deformities of limb length, flat foot conditions both in adults and children, runner knee pain, claw toe, hammertoe, hallux rigidus (stiff big toe condition) and various types of ulcerations.

The Future of Orthotics

Considering the information in the previous paragraphs orthotics is a very important branch of medicine seeing as its use is so widespread. So what lies in the future for orthotics and orthoses? Well better materials are being put on trial every day to develop lighter and superior orthoses.

Today, wearers of orthoses of various types have a lot more options when it comes to choice of orthoses and these are not only lighter but also more comfortable. The most important of these technological advancements in orthotics is the use of neuroelectronics. This type of technology when applied in this field allows signals to be sent from the brain to the prosthetics or orthoses making them move as a normal limb would. 

One major challenge that users of orthoses face (especially upper limb orthoses) is the inability to walk normally due to the locking knee in most orthoses. Well the orthotronic technology that has been developed has solved this problem by allowing the prosthetics to analyze real time movement and normalize the gait of the wearer. With such amazing leaps in technology, orthotics can only get better in the future.


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Dr Robinson Taylor Health Clinic, 64 Market Place, Heckmondwike, West Yorkshire, WF16 0HX.

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