Fact or Myth: Do Orthotics Cause Muscle Weakness?

Posted by Orthotics Direct on 2020 Sep 18th

One of the most polarizing debates in the running and marathon world is what are the best shoes runners should be wearing to optimize their performance.

Some professionals assert that runners should aim to stay as close as possible to the natural shape of their foot, and have claimed that using orthoses and custom orthotic inserts will eventually weaken the muscles of the legs and feet.

However, is this true? No. The reality is that custom orthotics do not weaken muscles, but rather do the opposite. There’s a lot more to understand about this debate, and why the vast majority of researchers, podiatrists, and doctors have continued to champion the benefits of orthotic devices to support a variety of foot problems.

Today, we’ll explore how this myth arose, debunk it using relevant scientific studies, and explain why so many people believed it in the first place.

Where Did This Myth Arise?

The consensus is that this myth arose from running science, and more specifically the community of runners and researchers who believe that running with minimally-shod feet is the easiest way to ensure a good form.

One study that many people point to as a source of these rumours is apaper published in Nature Research in 2018. This study collected data from people in rural northern Mexico as well as urban and suburban areas in the United States. The study authors suggested that people who walked around either barefoot or with minimal footwear had a stiffer longitudinal arch and larger muscles in certain areas of their feet.

They hypothesized that “individuals who are habitually minimally-shod throughout life have stronger foot muscles and stiffer feet than those who habitually wear ‘conventional shoes’”. They defined “conventional shoes” as “shoes with some combination of features that affect natural foot motion, including restrictive toe boxes, heel counters, arch supports and toe springs.”

Based on the fact that reduced stiffness in the longitudinal arch is a risk factor for foot issues like plantar fasciitis and metatarsal stress fractures (metatarsalgia), the authors of this study concluded that conventional footwear was actively weakening the muscles in subjects who often wore shoes for walking and running.

Studies That Refute This Myth

The reason why so many researchers and podiatrists disagreed with the 2018 Nature Research study is that they believe it doesn’t take into account how our feet respond to various shoes and orthotic devices over time.

Even a layperson can understand that our leg and feet muscles will react differently when we go from large, supportive winter boots to lighter spring and summer shoes like flip-flops.

To prove that supportive shoes and orthotic devices were not harmful and did not inhibit the development of muscles, other studies evaluated their subjects’ responses to orthotics over several months.

When they looked at subjects with flexible flatfoot before and after using orthotics for three months, they found a marked improvement in plantar pressure.

Another reality that the Nature Research study did not take into account is that not everyone has strong musculature and good alignment in their feet and legs. As a result, many people have developed gait problems. Without treatment, these gait problems can put them at risk for painful conditions like plantar fasciitis, arch pain, heel spurs, and more.

Choose Orthotics for These Foot Conditions

Instead of weakening muscles, orthotic devices help strengthen our legs, ankles, and foot muscles by supporting them in proper alignment. These devices can also help maximize joint function and assist the muscles in our lower legs in working more efficiently together.

Without orthotic devices, people who have foot issues will continue to experience pain and discomfort, which may get worse with time.

If you have any of the following conditions, it’s worth consulting a doctor or podiatrist about custom orthotic inserts for your shoes.

  • Arthritis
  • Flat Feet
  • Overpronation
  • Metatarsalgia
  • Morton’s Neuroma
  • Neuropathy
  • Plantar Fasciitis
  • Sesamoiditis
  • Shin Splints

Why Custom Orthotics?

While many foot conditions can benefit from treatment with orthotics, the reality is that many of these conditions need more support than standard over-the-counter shoe inserts can provide.

These inserts may help cushion impact and reduce pressure for a short period, but they wear out quickly and will not provide gait correction or support for more serious issues like overpronation. They’re also made with materials that degrade quickly, so you’ll have to repurchase at least twice a year.

Custom orthotic inserts are made to conform to your exact measurements and take all of your foot problems into account to ensure you receive support exactly where you need it most. They’re more expensive, but they last up to ten times longer than standard OTC shoe inserts, so you won’t have to repurchase for years.

Shop the Best Custom Orthotics at Orthotics Direct

At Orthotics Direct, we’re passionate about creating custom orthotics that our customers can use to walk, run, and exercise with confidence.

All of our devices are meticulously crafted using a detailed foam or digital cast of your foot and can take multiple foot conditions into account. This means continued and promised support for bunions, corns, heel spurs, and other painful issues, and the ability to correct gait and pronation.

Shop our latest brands, submit your digital or foam cast, and experience relief from everyday foot pain with orthotics delivered right to your door.