The Role of Orthotics in Athletic Performance

The Role of Orthotics in Athletic Performance

By Joe Mullins, M. Ed., LAT, ATC

The importance of the feet in sports and the role they play can perhaps be understood through an analogy of a NASCAR racecar. All of the cars in the race look the same. The majority of the cars in the race have equal or very comparable engines. The difference in the winning car and the others is often times the ability to negotiate the turns better (known as the “handling” of the race car). The relationship between the tires and the chassis determines how efficient the driver can manipulate the racecar. The same holds true for the athlete. The relationship between the feet and the remainder of the other joints in the body (collectively known as the kinetic chain) determines how efficient the athlete can manipulate his or her body during skilled athletic movements.

The feet are the body’s foundation of movement as they absorb forces that are created at the ground when the heel makes contact. The foot redirects the forces up the kinetic chain to the core where a transfer of energy is completed to allow for a skilled athletic movement to occur.

To understand the demands placed on the foot during activity consider that walking puts up to 1.5 times one’s bodyweight on the foot. Running puts up to 275% of one’s bodyweight on the foot. On average, our feet log 1,000 miles per year. As shock absorbers, feet cushion up to one million pounds of pressure during one hour of strenuous exercise.

In athletic individuals, sports activities result in a great deal of movement and pressure on the foot. Slight imbalances in the foot, that are undetectable under normal circumstances, may predispose an athlete to an injury due to fatigue and the extra stress of sports activity. The resultant injury isn’t always manifested at the foot. The injury can be manifested along the kinetic chain such as the knee, hip, back or shoulder – pending on the athlete’s specific sport. Since the majority of sports revolve around multidirectional movements, quick accelerations and decelerations place a premium on foot function.

The purpose of orthotics is to address these foot imbalances by reducing fatigue and promoting efficient muscle function. Orthotics work like shock absorbers by promoting proper alignment of the feet. Optimal foot balance and function can help an athlete achieve his or her potential by performing more efficiently and by avoiding painful kinetic chain dysfunctions.

Since orthotics alter the way a person walks, stands, and absorbs shock from the ground, anyone considering orthotics should consult a professional with the proper training for more information.