In order to better understand how foot orthotics can help knee pain it is important to understand the anatomy and function of the knee. Please review the section on knee anatomy prior to reviewing this section.

Foot orthotics is a general term used to describe any device, arch-support or insole that changes the function and biomechanics of the foot (for simplicity, the term "orthotics" will be used in this section in place of the term "foot orthotics"). Orthotics can improve knee pain in a number of ways:

  • They can change the distribution of force through the foot and ankle, which can result in a change in the distribution of force through the knee.
  • They can act as cushions to reduce the force through the foot and ankle, which can result in a reduction of force through the knee.
  • They can change the alignment of the foot and ankle, which can result in a change of alignment at the knee. For example, they can control overpronation (rolling in) of the foot, which can result in patellofemoral pain, iliotibial band syndrome or make the pain from some types of osteoarthritis worse. As the foot overpronates the lower leg and knee internally rotate. Orthotics can help control overpronation of the foot, which in turn, improves the alignment of the knee and thereby reducing knee pain.

Orthotics can be made of many different materials. The choice of material depends on what the orthotics are trying to do. Soft orthotics are beneficial if cushioning is required. Semi-rigid orthotics provide more stability than soft orthotics and still provide good shock absorption while rigid orthotics provide maximal support and stability.

Orthotics can be custom made or pre-made and are designed to fit easily into most casual or sports shoes. After an initial break-in period orthotics should feel comfortable. Feet and knees need time to adapt to new orthotics. If the orthotics are not comfortable in 2-3 weeks they may need to be adjusted. Properly designed, manufactured and fitted orthotics should not make feet or knees feel worse.

Orthotics have some drawbacks. They do not fit in all types of shoes. Some people report that their orthotics are uncomfortable when they first start wearing them. Sometimes the material used to cover the orthotics can irritate the skin. Orthotics can be expensive and they do not always improve knee pain. Soft orthotics are made of softer materials and they tend to wear out and lose their effectiveness quicker than semi-rigid or rigid orthotics. However, when used in conjunction with a general knee rehabilitation program orthotics can serve an important role in the treatment of some types of knee pain.

In summary, orthotics should be considered in the treatment of some types of knee pain. Doctors and physiotherapists who are skilled in treating knee problems can advise whether orthotics would be helpful and how to get the correct type.

Please visit the links section for additional information on orthotics. Links have been provided to other websites as well as online medical journals. Knee injury topics can also be accessed.

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