The first set of running orthotics that I purchased in the early 1990s were fitted and designed by Dr. John Durkin, who served as a podiatrist to world-class runners such as Sebastian Coe, Craig Virgin and Jim Spivey. The inserts he created helped me overcome a persistent case of chondromalacia, a wearing down of the cartilage under the patella due to misalignment of the kneecap due to musculoskeletal imbalance.
I wore those inserts for years in both my running and regular shoes. They got quite stinky. I once blanched in embarrassment while working in a close office situation realizing it was my feet that smelled so bad.
In 1993 I ordered another pair of orthotics through my insurance plan and badgered the hapless podiatrist to adjust them repeatedly to my liking. My knee still hurt while wearing them and I blamed him for the incorrect orthotic prescription. Actually it was weakness of my hamstrings and quadriceps that likely caused the problem. At the same time, I begged my family physician to let me see a physical therapist during that period but he insisted that such treatments were “just fluff,” and refused to give me a referral to see the PT. Such is life under the thumb of an HMO plan when your regular doctor has a set of fixed beliefs about something.
Only years later when that same doctor tore a ligament and had to do physical therapy himself for recovery did he admit that PT had value. Too bad his revelation came to fruition after I’d just torn my ACL playing soccer.
That said, I persisted wearing the same set of weak-ass orthotics all the way through 2009 when a podiatrist I met at a running trail almost barfed upon looking at them. She prescribed another set of true running orthotics that worked quite well for many years. There was just one problem with those orthotics: they were thick and heavy. I grew to hate them for that reason.
That is why I’m writing this blog today. Just over a year ago, I visited my favorite local running store, Dick Pond Athletics, to check out an alternative set of orthotics. I’d seen a machine in the store that measures your biomechanical needs and prescribes a set of pre-made or 3D printed orthotics. The concept of those 3D inserts fascinated me.
I reasoned the same principles were at work and technology is making all sorts of advances in this world. These days when you visit the dentist there are 3D cameras that create instant images of your gums and teeth. An optometrist that I’ve visited uses a a reactive focusing mechanism to determine your prescription. Why shouldn’t technology solve the orthotics question of foot pressure and balance as well?
The staff at Dick Pond ran me through the paces of standing in places where the biometrics could be taken and stored. They gave me a set of orthotics to try out, two pairs actually, and I was instantly impressed. They provided just the right amount of support and were about 1/4 the weight of my previous set of orthotics. A set costs between $60-$70 and it is recommended by the store that runners get perhaps two sets a year. That’s still far less expensive than the cost of a podiatry visit and orthotics that run between $400 and $1000. I’m telling you, the aetrex inserts work as well or better than the big-ass orthotics I’d been wearing.
That’s no slam on podiatrists or pedorthists. For many people, their services will likely still be needed, just as physical therapy is needed. All I’m saying is that I am running as far and fast (and often faster) with this new solution as all previous inserts. Results count in my book. I wear my original set in my regular shoes. If they get funky after a few weeks, I spray them with Febreze. But largely, they don’t stink unless they get soaked from dew or some other maltreatment on my part. I stick them in hiking boots for walks in the woods, wear them discreetly in dress shoes to keep my feet and knees from hurting, and like that they aren’t clunky, hard or uncomfortable like some orthotics.
This past month my wife Sue tried out the process and received a set of orthotics to replace her much bulkier inserts as well. At the same time, she found a sweet pair of Nike Pegasus on sale in her size, and now runs with a much lighter stride as a result.
The company that we both favor for shoe inserts is aetrex. They have a 30-day comfort guarantee. You’re not obligated if it doesn’t work for you. I ran all year alternating a set of Brooks Adrenalines and NB 880s with the aetrex inserts. I just bought a new set of inserts last month.
If you’re struggling with foot, ankle, knee or hip pain, I highly recommend checking out the aetrex system. You can find a store that uses it through the aetrex website Store Locator. It proved a winner for me. My mileage is up, as is my average pace. I competed in several races this year, including a Half Ironman wearing these gadgets and love that my feet don’t feel like anvils at the bottom of my legs. After your fitting, you receive a complete printout of data on your foot prescription. All I can say is that technology is really great when it works. And it does.