History of Orthotics
People have been wearing shoes since the dawn of time to make life's hard road more bearable. Early shoe designs dating back thousands of years suggest that appearance has always been as important as comfort--if not more important. The shoe was originally a status symbol.
As shoes became more accessible to the general population, people demanded better comfort. At this time shoes were both made identically. There was no such thing as a left or right shoe (a concept that would not catch on until the 1800's.) Early innkeepers recognized that most weary travelers complained of foot pain. The first insoles were made by innkeepers from matted animal hair retrieved from the local barn (later called felt).
Over time, shoe makers, or cobblers, modified the innkeepers' foot pads and began to add leather materials to the insides of shoes to create a better, more comfortable fit--the first arch supports were born. Early arch supports were made by laminating layers of leather strips together, molding them to shoe lasts, and then shaping the arch support by hand for wearing inside shoes. These new arch supports helped create a new level of comfort for people wearing shoes. The only problem was that arch supports were often bulky and heavy.
By the early 1900's electricity and bench grinders made cutting down leather laminated devices much faster and therefore more affordable for the general population. Additionally, lighter and softer materials were combined with leather blanks to create an additional level of comfort.
The next major enhancement came in the 1960's when a new generation of thermoplastics was introduced to the marketplace. When hot, thermoplastics mold to a form, such as a replica of your foot. Once cooled, the material retains the molded shape of the form. Thermoplastics, such as polypropylene, are extremely lightweight. More importantly, thermoplastics provide a strong, durable, and thin orthotic that can support the foot and body while fitting into modern shoe styles. As a further plus, polypropylene is recyclable.
The introduction of thermoplastic materials led to new theories about how to make arch supports. Instead of using a shoe last to make the device, medical professionals began using a mold or cast of a person's foot, thereby creating a true orthotic. The medical definition of an orthotic is a brace that supports a specific body structure. More importantly, scientific principles were (and continue to be) applied to the foot's structure and to foot orthotics to develop foot supports that can actually control the function of feet, legs, hips, back, and neck.
Since the 1960's, the art of custom orthotic making has been continually enhanced so that today we can fabricate an orthotic that can help correct foot deformities (such as bunions, flat feet, etc.) that cause typical aches and pains in the feet, legs, hips, back, and neck--the types of aches and pains people in all cultures and all parts of the world experience.
Medically prescribed custom orthotics can be compared to eye glasses: neither changes your body, but instead assist you in performing at a higher level. If you don't wear them, they are not helping you. If you need glasses and wear them, seeing and reading become much easier. The same applies to custom orthotics. If you need them, they can greatly enhance your general comfort and wellbeing. If you depend on your feet to work or play, you will find it hard to function without foot orthotics once you have experienced the benefits.
There are a full range of orthotics available, from inexpensive insoles to custom foot orthotics made to perform under very specific conditions, such as snow skiing, golf or other sports. The future promises a continuing stream of enhancements.