Orthotics often bring to mind leg braces and clunky grandpa shoes. In the past, orthotics, while helpful, were often cumbersome and mass-produced to fit the largest number of people possible. While this approach made orthotics available for a wide range of people, technology has since advanced to allow for the creation of much more personalized, comfortable, and discrete forms of orthotic treatment.
Custom orthotics are the wave of the future and the scanning, modeling, and casting technology currently available ensure that the orthotics we manufacture are designed and finished with your specific orthotic needs in mind. But before you Google “orthotist near me,” let’s dive into the specifics about what custom orthotics entail—and what they can do for you.
What Are Orthotics?
Orthotics are shoe inserts that support and correct abnormal foot movement or shape. Orthotics can be made from a variety of materials and manufactured in a number of ways. Generally speaking, orthotics address one of two issues: providing cushion and comfort or providing support and stability for abnormal foot movement.
Custom orthotics are usually created to provide support and correction for abnormal foot movement or formation. At Horton’s Orthotics and Prosthetics, we use the latest technology and manufacturing devices to create custom orthotics designed to cut patient recovery time and keep our patients active and mobile so they can continue to do the things that they love.
Technology Advances in Orthotics and Prosthetics Arkansas
Advancements in scanning technology are the number one reason custom orthotics are now available to the masses. In the 90s, foot scanners first became available as laser, structured light, and stereophotogrammetric machines. While these were incredibly accurate, they were expensive and took up a lot of space. They were also mostly 2-D, which isn’t as comprehensive as a full-scale model made from an old-school casting in plaster or paraffin.
Now, 3D printing and scanning technology have made complete and fully detailed models of the foot a reality. With a few pictures that are taken from different angles and basic measurements, 3D scanning software can use an algorithm to create a near-perfect replica of your foot! And as a bonus, this tech is much less bulky than previous models since the pictures can be taken with a smartphone or tablet.
Additive manufacturing is a process that builds 3D casts by modeling them digitally and then producing them through 3D printing, photopolymerization, and/or injection molding. No matter how manufacturing is accomplished, it produces less waste than the traditional subtractive manufacturing methods like carving and milling.
Subtractive manufacturing is just what it sounds like: you start with a block of plaster (or whichever material you’re using) and carve away sections to sculpt a model of the foot. This can be highly accurate when performed by a capable technician (although sometimes we can’t help but call them artists).
At Horton’s, we use both methods depending on need. Sometimes models created by 3D printing and imagery will still need a tiny amount of touch-up work through subtractive manufacturing to make sure the alignment is just right and all the details are as true-to-life as possible.
The long-term advantages of additive manufacturing are its ability to reduce production costs and increase customization. Luckily, 3D printers are becoming more affordable every day and they can produce an orthotic shell in mere hours—and they only take up as much space on the counter as a large microwave!
The Horton’s Custom Orthotics Process
The first step in any discussion about custom orthotics should be evaluation and assessment. Your gait, your medical history, your activity level, and your measurements will all influence the construction of your orthotics. Think of it as a “fitting” as you’d do for a custom-tailored suit or evening gown. Much like the tailoring process, you may need a few fittings to get the perfect fit—and it’s even more important because you’ll likely be wearing your orthotics every day.
One of the diagnostic tools we use during your assessment is “gait analysis.” This means that our orthotist will be taking an in-depth look at the way you walk. This can be a little intimidating for some people, but try to walk as normally as possible so the orthotist can evaluate you correctly. Every person’s gait is unique and is influenced by a multitude of factors like gender, age, past injuries, diagnosis, and the footwear you wear on a regular basis. Along with observing your gait, your orthotist will likely film your gait or take pictures to use in the image modeling of your foot.
Next, measurements of your legs, ankles, and feet will be taken. We use 3D scanners and/or foam boxes to get the exact images we need.
The second step will be manufacturing your orthoses. We use a variety of materials depending on need, including foam, plastics, nylon, and carbon graphite. We will likely use a combination of our computer-aided design and manufacturing (CAD-CAM) machines and traditional subtractive detail work to create a perfect replica of your foot and build the corrective fit needed to aid your gait.
The final and most vital step in the custom orthotic process is the final fitting. Everything we do is meant to aid your diagnosis as comfortably as possible. Ill-fitting orthotics—much like any ill-fitting shoe—can cause discomfort, pain, and even further damage to your foot. We also know that if the fit is painful or irritating that our patients are less likely to wear their corrective orthotics, which renders the orthotics useless.
So if you feel any pinching, rubbing, or anything seems off, tell us! From straps and fasteners to inserts and shoes, we want to ensure that you are as comfortable and natural in your orthoses as possible. If problems appear after you’ve taken your orthoses home and worn them for a few days, don’t hesitate to contact us for a follow-up fitting.
Orthotics and Prosthetics Near Me
If you have any questions about custom orthotics, contact Horton’s Orthotics and Prosthetics. We’re happy to answer your questions or schedule an appointment with one of our gifted and experienced orthotists.