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Americans have achy feet. In fact, 77% of Americans suffer from some type of foot pain and of those people suffering, 1 in 2 say that their physical activity is limited by the pain (National Digest). A survey by the American Podiatric Medical Association found that more than half of Americans have reportedly missed work because of severe foot pain.

There are many factors that cause foot pain including working long days on your feet, suffering an injury or wearing high heels. However, there are more serious conditions that lead to foot pain including rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes. While at first glance it doesn’t seem like these conditions would lead to foot pain, the truth of the matter is, they do, and it affects millions of Americans each day. Thankfully there’s an easy solution called insoles or custom orthotics that can relieve the pain caused by these ailments.

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease that attacks the tissues near the joints and other parts of the body. RA is a systemic disease that can affect the whole body including organs such as the heart and lungs or tissues like muscles, cartilage and ligaments. Inflammation related to RA can cause structural problems in the feet such as hammertoes and bunions. This foot pain can spread beyond the feet and lead to shin pain, knee pain and lower back pain.

About 1.3 million Americans suffer from RA (Healthline). Women are two to three times more likely to suffer from RA than men. RA usually starts between the ages of 30 and 60 for women and slightly later in life for men. About 40% of the people who have rheumatoid arthritis also experience signs and symptoms that don’t involve the joints (Mayo Clinic).

Research has found that people who wear insoles have less foot pain related to RA and need fewer pain-relieving medications than those who don’t wear insoles. Some studies suggest “custom-made orthotics can lead to long-term changes in biomechanics that may slow or prevent the progression of arthritis,” says Marian Hannan, associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and co-director of Musculoskeletal Research at the Harvard-affiliated Institute for Aging in Boston (Arthritis.org).

Hannan notes, anecdotally, “We can tell by the prevalence of people who continue to wear orthotics months and years after filling their prescription that they feel that the inserts are helping” (Arthritis.org).

RA can be a cause of hammer toes and insoles can provide the support the feet need to reduce the likelihood it will worsen. Bunions are another condition insoles help by expanding a shoe’s toe box and reducing the pressure on the big toe.

Diabetes is another condition that can lead to foot pain. People who suffer from diabetes can lose sensation in their feet, which is a condition known as diabetic neuropathy. When this occurs, orthotics can help to reduce excess stress and pressure that can lead to foot ulcers. In 2020, over 1 in 10 people, or 34.2 million Americans, suffer from diabetes and another 88 million American have prediabetes (National Diabetes Report).

In recent years, studies have found that insoles and custom orthotics can help with diabetic neuropathy in many ways. First, insoles can cushion the soles of the feet and provide support to relieve the friction and pinching that cause blisters and sores that can lead to infection. Second, insoles can provide foot support that strengthens small muscles in the foot that lead to over pronation. Insoles can also provide support that can help prevent conditions like hammertoes, claw toes and other foot joint deformities. Finally, insoles with a supportive cupped heel provides stability and supports the foot’s arch while dispersing the pressures normally put on the forefoot and heel. This helps relieve stress on the foot and can improve posture and reduce the risk of falls.

Insoles and custom orthotics can help relieve many stresses that cause pain in the feet that leads to additional pain in the toes, back, hips and spine. While insoles can’t cure these conditions, they can certainly relieve a lot of the pain associated with them. Insoles provide stability and support of the heel, arch and forefoot and can help redistribute the pressure of standing, while helping to correct over pronation. There’s plenty of evidence that insoles and custom orthotics help both rheumatoid arthritis and painful conditions caused by diabetes, offering an affordable alternative and supplemental solution to medical care. As Dr. Reed Ferber, Ph.D., and director of the University of Calgary’s Running Injury Clinic states, “a $50 pair of orthotics can potentially be as effective as a $400 to $500 custom pair.”

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