Today on the Doc on the Run Podcast, we’re talking about what runners should do before getting custom orthotics.
As race season ramps up, I see lots and lots of runners who are in the midst of their training, and, for some reason, they want to get custom orthotics.
Now, I know that we, as runners, with athletes, we’re always looking for the tools, the latest training techniques, the newest, coolest shoes, the best kind of socks, the newest heart rate monitors, whatever, to help us train better and be faster. Now, there are lots of outlandish claims that I’ve seen regarding custom orthotics. Sometimes doctors will tell you they’ll make you run faster. I even at one time had a guarantee that I started where I told people that I would give them their money back if they did not have a new marathon PR after using custom orthotics, that you could use them for a year, and if you didn’t have your fastest race ever, I’d give you all your money back.
Well, I will tell you up front that I still offer that guarantee, but I do not make custom orthotics for the overwhelming majority of runners I see because most runners don’t need them. And if I made orthotics for you and you didn’t actually need custom orthotics and you didn’t actually need customized support to change your form, to adjust the way that your foot’s hitting the ground, to prevent you from having recurring injuries, then I don’t think they would make you run faster. If you’re injured, if you’re always injured, if you’re always under trained because you’re having recurring injuries, and you get custom orthotics, then in that case, custom orthotics can make you run faster. But they’re not jet fuel for your feet.
So there are a lot of misconceptions about custom orthotics and there are a lot of things that you should understand before you get custom orthotics. And that’s what we’re going to talk about today. The main thing you need to understand is that there have been many studies that show over-the-counter inserts are almost as effective as custom orthotics for many people. So if you think about this, if 85% of the time, someone can get support from an over-the-counter orthotic that’s nearly as good as a custom orthotic for a fraction of the cost, that you could get today, then it totally makes sense to try that before you get custom orthotics.
So when I was in training, I had rotations with lots of different doctors. And a number of different doctors I worked with would do this routine where they said, “Look, if you think somebody needs custom orthotics, you can just tell them to get some over-the-counter orthotics. And if they try those over-the-counter orthotics and they get a little bit of support from them that actually really helps their condition because it’s stabilized their foot just a little bit, it’s held them in a corrected position a little bit, and it helps them improve some, then that actually makes it more likely that custom orthotic therapy might be worth it.”
And the reason we say it might be worth it is that, first of all, if you get custom orthotics from your normal doctor’s office, it may take four to six weeks before you actually get them. When I see runners, I have an arrangement with the lab where I don’t have to wait in line, I basically pay them extra and I have them to you within a few days. But that’s still a few days. You can’t get them today. But you can get over-the-counter inserts today at your local running story, at many shoe stores, you can get them at REI, you can get them at lots of different places, and you can get them today.
So if you can get some over-the-counter inserts that stabilize your foot a little bit, hold you in a corrected position, and you try those and you start to improve, you may improve enough that you don’t need custom orthotics at all. And if you don’t need custom orthotics, well, you certainly shouldn’t spend the money on them because they are expensive. They’re hundreds of dollars. And if you got custom orthotics and you feel like you’ve been doing better, then of course you’re going to think you always need custom orthotics going forward, and you might spend lots of money over the next several years just paying for custom orthotics.
So if you think you might need custom orthotics, try over-the-counter inserts first.
If you have a question that you would like answered as a future addition of the Doc On The Run Podcast, send it to me PodcastQuestion@docontherun.com. And then make sure you join me for the next edition of the Doc On The Run Podcast!