I always question whether or not do orthotics work for runners because many runners still have the very same problem that their orthotics are supposed to treat. The efficacy of running in orthotics is under speculation. A large systematic review on the corrective properties of orthotics concluded that running in orthotics may result in adverse effects on joint health, and therefore forefoot runners should avoid orthotics.
Do Orthotics Work for Runners?
How Orthotics Hinders Performance and Influences Injury in Running
In general, muscle activation relates to muscle function and the energy required to support and accelerate the body during running.
- orthotics globally increased muscle activation compared to the non-orthotics group
- relative increases were highest in the tibialis anterior (shin), the peroneus longus, and the biceps femoris muscle in the orthotics group
The researchers found that the increase in muscle activation of the lower leg due to custom molded orthotics, influenced ankle instabilities when running.
Orthotics Cause Body to Perceive Foot Strike as Unstable When Running
In the same study, muscle activation was quantified based on EMG intensity, where high EMG intensity indicated high muscle activation. The scientists discovered that:
- the orthotics group showed an increase in muscle activation which was due to the body’s attempt to stabilize the foot/ankle complex while running as each foot strike was perceived as unstable
- orthotics distorted sensory input from the feet which impaired foot-placement awareness and perception of foot strike
- orthotics prevented the body’s natural, preferred movement path of the joint/skeletal structure during running
- comparatively, the non-orthotics group showed lower EMG intensity when running, indicating optimal conditions for running
Therefore, the non-orthotic group ran safer due to better foot-placement awareness and foot-ankle stability.
A good to question to ask is since muscle activation relates to muscle function and energy, does high muscle activation due to orthotics, influence energy expenditure when running?
The study found that increased activation in fast-twitch muscle fibers led to earlier on-set of fatigue and lowered performance efforts as increased muscle activation is strongly associated with higher energy expenditure.
Say NO to orthotics and run natural!
More From Run Forefoot:
- Heel Striking is Dangerous
- Thick Heeled Running Shoes Impair Running Form Causing Lower Leg Injury
- Proper Footwear for Running
Gottschall, JS and Kram, R. Energy cost and muscular activity required for the propulsion during walking. J Appl Physiol, 2003; 94(5):1766-72
Mundermann et al. Foot orthoses affect frequency components of muscle activity in the lower extremity. Gait & Posture, 2006; 23(3):295-302
Rodrigues, P., Chang, R., TenBroek, T and Hamill, J. Medially posted insoles consistently influence pronation in runners with and without anterior knee pain. Gait Posture, 2013; 37(4):526-31.
Root, ML. Development of the functional orthosis. Clin Podiatr Med Surg, 1994; 11(2):182-210.
BSc Neurobiology; MSc Biomechanics candidate, ultra minimalist runner & founder of RunForefoot. I was a heel striker, always injured. I was inspired by the great Tirunesh Dibaba to try forefoot running. Now, I'm injury free. This is why I launched Run Forefoot, to advocate the health & performance benefits of forefoot running and to raise awareness on the dangers of heel striking, because the world needs to know.