Do Runners Really Need Orthotics?

Uhh, do you really think I’m going to say no? I mean this is a NYC podiatry blog, so it’s probably a foregone conclusion that the answer is a resounding yes, but let’s spend a few minutes discussing the science and justifying the cost.

In the course of treating runners, as well as in the course of my own running, the question of the value and utility of orthotics arises. There are many studies that support the benefits of orthotics for runners, both for prevention and treatment of the most common lower extremity conditions affecting runners (patella-femoral syndrome, ITB syndrome, shin splints, Achilles tendonitis, heel pain) as well as optimizing gait and stride. And there are many other studies published in which the benefits of orthotics for runners are less clearly defined. However, as I often tell my patients, it is quite intuitive that a custom foot bed in a well-fitting proper shoe with a reasonable wear pattern will make the shoe more comfortable and optimize a runner’s gait. And in over 10 years of practice, as well as throughout my own running career, this has been demonstrated consistently. There are those who don’t need an orthotic, and over-the-counter orthotics have their place, as does barefoot running, but in general, yes, orthotics are beneficial for runners, on many levels. And as we have previously discussed, this applies to all foot types: over-pronators, high-arched feet and neutral arches. Different orthotic types are available for different foot types.

So what about the cost? Well, let’s figure that a well-made custom orthotic costs in the $400-$500 range. That device should last a minimum of 5-10 years. Actually, the orthotic shell should last forever. The top cover may need to be refurbished, and the foot may change slightly necessitating an adjustment of the old device or possibly a new device, but otherwise, the ideal orthotic may very well last for an entire running career. A good running shoe has a life expectancy of 250-500 miles, or about 6 months for the average runner. At about $100/pair, that’s $1000 over 5 years, or about twice the cost of one pair of custom orthotics. Not a bad investment considering the number of steps that will be run on one pair of custom orthotics. What’s more, many insurances still cover the cost of orthotics, and any orthotic dispensed by my NYC podiatry office carries a money back guarantee (although rarely necessary). How’s that for a NYC shameless plug?

So if you run, and you have feet, and are thinking about a way to be more comfortable, run better, and be more attractive to the ladies, look no further that your soles. It’s an uplifting experience.

See you in the office.

Ernest Isaacson