The Benefits of Custom Orthotics: Functional vs. Accommodative

Jun 17, 2021

Custom orthotics can be incredibly useful tools for helping patients find relief from pain and other symptoms caused by certain foot and ankle conditions. If an abnormality in foot structure or biomechanics is at the core of a problem, there is a very good chance that orthotics can help.

The key to their effectiveness lies in their versatility. The “custom” part is no joke – each pair of custom orthotic inserts is made especially to each patient’s unique foot shape and needs.  

Each set of custom orthotics is truly one of a kind, but we can still divide them into two general categories based on their primary purposes: accommodative orthotics and functional orthotics. We will be diving into the benefits of each kind here, and take a look at how they differ from one another.

While we will be making some comparisons here, this is not to tell you whether one type of orthotic is better than the other. Functional and accommodative orthotics aren’t opponents. You can think of them more like partners in a buddy cop movie. They each have the same goal of helping you find comfort and mobility – it’s just that their approaches to doing so are different, and are more effective in different situations.

Accommodative Orthotics: A Supportive Approach

Accommodative orthotics are designed to provide a specific degree of support to a structural flaw within the foot. Their aim is to effectively manage the symptoms of a condition through cushioning and redistribution of weight.

If someone has a bunion or hammertoes, for example, a pair of accommodative orthotics can help shift excess weight away from vulnerable joints as they stand and walk, as well as provide needed cushioning to improve comfort in sensitive areas. Accommodative orthotics could be used as part of a treatment plan to provide relief without the need for corrective surgery, or help diabetic foot care patients prevent sores and ulcers in certain areas of the foot.

 

As their name may suggest, accommodative orthotics tend to be made from somewhat pliable materials including foams, rubbers, leather, or cork. They are generally designed for flexibility without being complete pushovers.

Functional Orthotics: Controlling the Field

When discomfort or other symptoms can be traced to a problem with biomechanics (i.e. how your feet and body move), functional orthotics may be prescribed to counter and control that abnormality.

Functional orthotics typically achieve this goal by holding the foot and lower leg in a neutral position, reducing or eliminating abnormal motions such as overpronation (which is when the foot rolls too far inward while walking). By realigning these faulty biomechanics, excess stress can be relieved and comfort improved. Instances of some sports injuries, such as Achilles tendinitis, can also be reduced.

The materials that comprise functional orthotics tend to be less flexible than accommodative orthotics. Firm plastic, graphite, and carbon fiber are common. A functional orthotic will also typically make full contact with the entire length of the underfoot, whereas accommodative orthotics can more often have partial contact.

It is also important to note that a functional orthotic provides corrective support, but – like accommodative orthotics – cannot actually correct an abnormality in structure or gait over time. Orthotics are not like braces that will gradually shift your structure back to a certain standard. Their benefits are only in place when they are worn, making them a long-term form of treatment.

Can You Get the Best of Both Worlds?

Some people need only cushioning and support. Others need only correction. But still others need both – and can often get it!

Elements of both types of orthotic can often be combined, providing the primary benefits of each where they are needed most. Just like a good pair of buddy cops, they can work well together.

Before we can make any recommendations for custom orthotics (or any other form of treatment), however, we must ensure we fully understand the foot and ankle problems you are facing. That means a thorough physical examination, as well as learning more about how and when you are experiencing your symptoms. When did you first start to notice problems? Are they worse during certain times or activities? What kind of work do you do and what kinds of shoes do your feet spend most of their time in? Answers to these and other questions can be extremely helpful.

If we recommend custom orthotics as part of a treatment plan, you can be assured they will be made specifically for you. We will make a model of your feet and prescribe a build that meets your needs. 

There is occasionally a need for some minor adjustments after a pair of orthotics has been dispensed, but significant improvements are typically felt after a short “break-in” period. With proper care, your custom orthotics can last several years before replacement. Many insurance plans also provide for a fully covered pair each year, meaning you can easily end up with more than one well-working pair for use in different shoes.

Find the Expert Foot and Ankle Care You Need

Custom orthotics have helped many of our patients continue to do the things they love without discomfort getting in the way. They may help your needs too, or another form of treatment may be best for your situation instead.

But if you don’t take action to address your foot and ankle pain now, you’re only ensuring it will remain! Call the Associates in Podiatry Princeton office at (609) 924-8333 or our Roselle Park office at (908) 687-5757 to schedule an appointment and take the first step toward some well-deserved relief. 

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