We have all had the experience of having a pebble in our shoe, and we know how much that tiny object can interfere with our ability to walk pain-free. Switch from a pebble to a condition or injury that causes pain, and you can understand how for centuries, people have tried to figure out how to make walking more comfortable. Today, orthotics is a professional clinical specialty, where each patient is treated for their specific condition, with a ton of proven science behind each diagnosis and treatment. But there’s a long history leading up to this point.
In 1780, Swiss doctor Jean Andre Venel set up the world’s first orthopedic clinic to help children with skeletal deformations. He pioneered the production of various orthotic devices. The 19th century Welsh surgeon Hugh Owen Thomas developed the method of examination of deformation in a lying position, and is considered the father of orthopedics in the United Kingdom. The first modern orthotics began to be developed in the early 20th century, assembled from metal components padded with felt, and covered in leather. In 1906, Dr. William Scholl (yes, THAT Dr. Scholl) introduced a lighter, more flexible metal support called the Foot-Easer.
But this mode of design remained largely unchanged for decades.
Orthotics became more prevalent as a way to help injured veterans of two world wars, as well as polio victims of the 1940s and 1950s. The demand for corrective shoes was so high that there were close to 1000 different brands. The advertising campaigns were so outrageous that the Federal Trade Commission had to begin issuing cease and desist orders. The corrective shoe industry began to fade away.
Then, in 1968, an article was published describing the use of polypropylene to fabricate lower-leg braces for children with spina bifida. Parents began asking for “plastic braces,” and a revolution was born, not just in the design of orthotics, but in how they were prescribed. Manuals and textbooks had tended to pigeonhole each patient into a set category. For each category, there was a device, but the patient and the device were often not well matched. With new and more specialized manufacturing options, diagnosis and treatment began to focus more on achieving an exact match between the patient’s needs and the device used.
By the late 1970s, jogging became much more popular, and foot orthotics developed even more rapidly, as athletes reported more foot and lower limb injuries. In the 1980s and 1990s, athletic shoes were developed with features such as flared heels, contoured sole inserts, and underfoot cushioning.
Today, skin-friendly Velcro straps have replaced leather. Dynamic ankle braces made of light carbon fiber have replaced orthopedic shoes. Though there are devices available over-the-counter, anyone wanting a solution that will match their specific needs should get a specific diagnosis and proposed treatment. Dr. Smith offers both ready-made and custom-made orthotics. To ensure they are as effective as possible, he will prescribe and fit them to you based on your diagnosis, foot shape and other factors. Remember, foot pain is NOT normal. An appointment with Dr. Smith is the first step toward feeling better.