In-store foot scanners : A waste of time and money

Ah, the fancy in-store foot scanner that seems to be popping up all over in your local drug stores and Walmarts to accurately access the pressure points and wear patters on your feet in order to prescribe the correct branded orthotic for your foot.  You have to love them. I do.  For me they are excellent toys for my children to play with so I can shop for 5 minutes and they can \’look at all the lights\’ changing colors on the screen.  Beyond that, they are worthless.

Some people like to argue with me that they can get a store bought orthotic that does just as well as custom orthotic and it will save them hundreds of dollars.  I will be the first to agree with that fact.  I make custom orthotics but I do make them for every patient nor do I feel every patient needs them.  I myself require orthotics, I have a custom pair and an off the shelf pair and depending on what shoes I am wearing will depend on which ones I wear.  Not all of us can live with a physical therapist to understand the difference in what to wear when but in reality you don\’t have to.  For most people, an over the counter pair will be sufficient, you just need the right over the counter pair and standing on a foot scanner in the middle of the store is not going to give you the proper fit orthotic.

The in-store foot scanners act like the wet paper test and I know some of you have done those.  You wet your foot and stand on a piece of paper and this will show you whether you have a high arch or a low arch.  This is the main piece of evidence those scanners use to provide you with a correct orthotic.  Yes they do ask questions but beyond that this is the bulk of where the information comes from.  And while yes it is important to take note of how your foot looks in a static standing position, wouldn\’t one come to the conclusion that in order to provide you with a proper orthotic, you have to take a look at the foot when it is in motion as that is when you are getting the pain or that is when the pain is becoming worse.

Looking at a foot in the static standing position can offer much information, however, it does not tell the whole story.  Generally if you have a high arch foot you have more stability and will need more cushion in an orthotic where as a low arch foot generally has more shock absorbing qualities but does not have the rigidness needed to push off properly.

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However, in at least 20% of the population the way the foot is \’supposed\’ to act based on arch height is not the way it acts when we watch the feet move.  Therefore, the orthotic that the machine tells you to get could be the exact opposite of what you should be getting and you could actually be making your problem worse.

When fitting someone for a custom or semi custom orthotic you must look at how that person walks and also feel how the bones and ligaments and the arch flexibility feel before you can accurately prescribe any orthotic.  Watching someone walk allows me to see if you are an overpronator, meaning that you roll too much on the inside of your ankle or if you are a supinator, meaning you walk on the outside of your foot.  Also watching your arch flexibility as you walk tells me if you stay in a high arch position, meaning that we need to give you a very shock absorbing orthotic or if you fall into a low arch which means a more rigid orthotic is necessary.

There are also other factors that are taken into consideration such as shoe wear.  The proper type shoes can make such a difference that an insert may not be necessary.  Also weight and activity level play a part in determining the correct type of orthotic that is necessary.  It is a shame how many times people come into see me and drop a bag of over the counter orthotics on the table, 2 and 3 pairs.  Collectively together costing over $100 or more.  If they had just come to see me in the first place the $60 pair of semi-custom orthotics would have made all the difference.  Having a properly trained physical therapist fit you with a correct pair can make all the difference.

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