Do Orthotics Work for Runners?

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.

A study quantified muscle activation in runners wearing orthotics and runners without found that:
Do Orthotics Work for Runners?

  • 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.

Do Orthotics Work for Running?

Say NO to orthotics and run natural!

More From Run Forefoot:


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.

Bretta Riches

"I believe the forefoot strike is the engine of endurance running..."

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.
Bretta Riches

P.S. Don't forget to check out the Run Forefoot Facebook Page, it's a terrific place to ask questions about forefoot running, barefoot running and injury. I'm always happy to help!

1 Comment

  1. I have a very bad right knee, with bone on bone and had micro fracture technique performed years ago on medial femoral condyle….I have been running for over 35 years and am now 68 ( woman)….I know I am eligible for a knee replacement but have resisted because at this point I can still run some..I ran my 33rd half marathon in 2014 in 2:14 which was pretty good for me. I have the most pain at night when my knee is immobile and extending or bending my knee is quite painful. When I was having all of this difficulty I switched from heel strike to forefoot running which I feel has allowed me to continue running until now…I am not able to run for 45 to 50 minutes..but not two days in a row. I run in Brooks Pure Connect 2’s which of course are no longer available…I think I purchased all the shoes out there on e bay etc…I have replaced the in sole with a cut out from my yoga pad …giving myself lots of cushioning….I know what you are saying about allowing the foot to feel the road/ground is best…but because of my knee it seems that the yoga pad
    insole really helps me….what do you think? I say anything that lessens pain and lets me keep running even at my reduced milage is a good thing.

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