Orthotics are customized insoles meant to realign the foot (change the angle at which it strikes the ground), making walking and running more efficient and taking pressure off painful areas. They're usually made by a lab from a plaster mold taken by a podiatrist, and come in different styles to fit into sneakers and dress shoes.

Although many podiatrists routinely recommend orthotics, their increasing use is controversial—especially since the cost (usually hundreds of dollars) is rarely covered by insurance. Robert Eckles, DPM, of the New York College of Podiatric Medicine, thinks orthotics are overprescribed for the general population. The appropriate medical strategy depends on the primary cause, he says: If malfunctioning feet are caused by overtraining or overweight, orthotics aren't going to fix that. Some practitioners also maintain that cheaper therapies—icing, stretching, less specialized shoe inserts—are as effective as prescription orthotics. Studies by Irene Davis, professor of physical therapy at the University of Delaware, found that "semi-custom" models (the lab uses a mold of the patient's feet to identify the best-fitting prefabricated insole) work as well as the totally customized, built-from-scratch kind.

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