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Sports Orthotics

What "Fixed Foot" Custom Footbeds and Orthotics Can Do For You

In a ski boot, ice skate or other “fixed foot” winter sports footwear, custom sport footbeds and orthotics can dramatically improve fit, performance and comfort. Custom footbeds and orthotics are full length inserts made to your personal foot shape. They provide support for the foot, helping to control excessive pronatory movement which can cause great discomfort in rigid footwear. People who have a tendency to “over pronate” (a majority of the population) can benefit greatly from this additional foot support. For those people whose feet are high arched and rigid (supinators), they can also benefit from full length orthotics or footbeds which transfers impact load to the entire surface of the bottom of the foot.

Q: Who needs custom footbeds/orthotics in their ski boots, snowboard boots and ice skates?

A: Just about everyone can feel the difference.

During the mid stance phase of walking (when the foot is in total contact with the ground) the foot is in a mobile adaptive or flexible condition. It is supposed to "pronate" to reduce shock to the leg, knee and back. The foot is in the mid stance position when it is "fixed" inside a ski boot, snowboard boot or skate. It is because the foot is flexible inside a rigid structure that issues of foot pain and loss of turning efficiency come into play. In a skiing and skating the foot must bear a load up of to 3 times your body weight for an extended duration. Fit problems occur as the foot is forced to pronate (flatten) causing pressure of the foot against the outer shell. Typically this pressure occurs at the base of the little toe (sixth toe syndrome), the navicular and medial malleolus (inside ankle bones), and heel. Also, because the foot is flexible, the muscles and tendons of the foot are "fighting back" to resist the pronatory movement (flattening of the arch) causing aching in the arch and mid-foot. The obvious cure for this foot pain is to provide more architectural support, better  matching the topography of the foot.

Q: Why don’t my expensive ski boots, snowboard boots or ice skates give me the support I need?

A: Because they were not made to your feet.

Everyone’s feet are different and manufacturers design the insole and shell to fit the greatest variety of feet possible. If they were to make the footbeds in the boots too supportive it would "offend" some peoples’ feet and therefore they would not buy them. This is also why manufacturers tend to make their footbeds and liners very cushioned, to initially feel comfortable to the greatest variety of foot shapes. The problem with this approach is that if the liner is too soft there is a corresponding loss of performance as the foot moves inside the shell. On the performance side, because custom footbeds / ski orthotics reduce pronation there is a more direct and efficient transfer of pressure from the lower leg to the ski edge. As the knee passes over the mid line of the foot, leverage to the edge is maintained by supporting the foot so that energy is not lost to the foot flattening. You can demonstrate this to yourself by standing with your shoes off and knees flexed over the toes. As you move your knee to the inside, you will notice the foot flattening as you start to exert pressure on the inside. This flattening of the foot translate to a loss of the effective lever arm of the lower leg to the ski edge. 

Q: What should I look for in winter sports "fixed-foot" orthotics / footbeds?

A: Results

There are a number of different ski orthotics / footbed systems available in sports shops and clinical settings. The most important component in selecting the right orthotics / footbeds, is the choice of the molding technician and fitter. Make sure the technician has an intimate understanding of the physical dynamics of your chosen sport and has hands-on experience with sport specific orthotic/footwear integration. A good technician will construct the orthotics / footbeds to match your foot shape, support the foot in the most efficient position and insure that the materials are supportive enough to provide control. The SportSoles orthotics / footbed systems use a semi-weight bearing method of capturing the shape of the bottom of the foot. Material is heated in an oven and the foot impression is taken by standing on or pressing the foot into a "pillow". This provides a very natural model of the bottom of the foot without creating too much arch.

Q: Will I need cants or additional stance alignment if I have custom orthotics / footbeds?

A: Maybe yes, maybe no.

The need for canting is greatly reduced by providing proper foot support while aligning the knee between the first and second toe. This is the optimal position of the knee just before exerting pressure.. However, for some people it will not be possible to get the knee into this position if they are excessively bow-legged, knock-kneed or have ankle inflexibility. In these cases it will be desirable to have canting to help put the athlete into the most efficient position possible.

Q: Are ski, snowboard or skate orthotics / footbeds transferable to other boots and footwear?

A: To other footwear of the same type, yes; to other footwear, probably not.

If your feet have stopped growing, your orthotics / footbeds should transfer to your next pair of boots or skates. Some minor trimming or adjustments may need to be made. The orthotics / footbeds for may also work in your in-line skates. Footbeds designed for skiing, snowboarding and skating will not work well in other footwear because they have been specifically designed to perform in mid-stance, not the full gait cycle (heel strike, adaptive mid stance, toe-off). They will most likely be too narrow and the materials too stiff. Using your winter sports orthotics / footbeds in shoes that flex at the forefoot will likely cause them to crack.

Q: Should I try on new boots or skates with my ski orthotics / footbeds?

A: Absolutely

Your orthotics / footbeds can dramatically change the way your new equipment fits. With the foot supported, you may find that you will fit into at least a half size smaller. This is because with proper support, the foot will not lengthen as it does when it pronates (flattens). The foot will also not be as wide if the mid-foot is supported.