How is it possible that some places charge you $300 dollars for a custom orthotic and others charge less than $100? What’s the difference? I know that this is a source of confusion because I get this question all the time. Basically the price difference depends on the manufacturing process.
Years ago the orthotic arch supports were crafted by hand and took many hours for a skilled technician to make. The doctor would make a cast of the patient’s foot with plaster. They would then send the plaster mold off to a lab to manufacture the orthotic. There still are some labs that make the devices by hand but these are becoming a thing of the past.
Today there are ways to manufacture custom arch supports that are much less labor intensive. Lasers and computers are used to make a 3-dimensional computer image of the foot. This image is then sent to a computer controlled milling machine which automatically machines out the orthotic. This process is less labor intensive but the computers and machines to do this are expensive. Therefore although the technology speeds up the process it does not bring down the cost appreciably.
To make the custom arch supports more affordable many labs now use a set of 100 or so pre-manufactured orthotics. The pre-made arch supports are sized according to length, heel width and arch heights. The shapes of the pre-fabs were based on the foot molds of over 100,000 patients. The most frequent shapes were mass produced to have a set of custom arch supports craftlabs that would meet the needs of 70% of the patients. For most of the other 30%, if an adjustment is needed to fit the orthotics exactly to the patient’s mold, the support can be heated and formed to conform to the mold.
Using the pre-fabs still requires that a mold be made of the foot. However this process has dramatically decreased the time of manufacture of the orthotics without sacrificing quality or function of the orthotic. Therefore many of the orthotic labs that were making them by hand are now using the pre-fabs. Unfortunately, because the pre-fabs work as well as the hand-made many labs can get away with charging the same price for the pre-fab as they did for the hand-made. However many providers of arch supports pass the savings on to the patient resulting in an effective solution to foot pain at a fraction of the cost.
If you have complex and/or complicated problems with your foot you should have a hands-on physical exam with a professional that can design an orthotic to solve your problem. However if you are like most people experiencing pain in your foot or knee, a pre-fab custom orthotic can solve the problem without costing you an arm to fix your leg.
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Dr. Jeffrey Davies, a board certified family physician, also has a Master’s degree in biomedical engineering. Prior to entering medical school Dr. Davies spent 12 years conducting research on hip and knee biomechanics at the Massachusetts General Hospital. Dr. Davies’ continued interest in biomechanics has led him to study how problems with the foot may lead to knee, hip and back pain.
Dr. Davies explains, “Abnormal foot motion can cause excessive rotation of the lower leg and thus stress concentrations in the hip and knee cartilage. I believe that if the slight imbalances of the foot are correctly diagnosed and then corrected with foot orthotics not only will the foot, knee and hip pain be relieved but the devastating effects of osteoarthritis may be prevented.”