After practicing podiatric medicine and surgery, with an emphasis on biomechanics for a longer time than I care to count, I have, I’d say in the last ten years, noticed a significant increase in the number of patients suffering from neuropathy. Additionally, most of these patients have been told there is no underlying reason why. They have been completely worked up for systemic causes such as diabetes, heavy metal poisoning, etc. yet no one knows why they have it. Strange to me that such is the seemingly current trend?? Is it the water, the many chemicals and toxins we are exposed to daily?
No one knows.
What I do know is that all neuropathy is not alike. That is, if one has neuropathy that is symmetrical, meaning it is equal on both sides of your body (feet, legs), then most likely it is a systemic cause. However, if it is not symmetrically equal, there could be a mechanical reason for the condition such as nerves being pinched in the back or even in the feet. I have seen many patients that have asymmetrical neuropathy both with and without an underlying cause. Either way, I have been told by many patients that wearing the foot orthotics that I provide them definitely have improved their neuropathy symptoms.
How do foot orthotics help patients’ neuropathy symptoms improve? No one can prove why; however, I believe it is because ideal realignment and function of the foot will lead to reduced inflammation of soft tissue and thus reduce irritation to the micro nerves. They also may realign the musculoskeletal system thus reducing pressure on the nerves. For example, it has been shown that reducing compression of the tarsal tunnel in the foot can be obtained by preventing the heel from everting (which occurs in pronation). Thus, less nerve irritation under the tunnel relates to improved nerve function and reduction of tingling and/or burning. Another example is, a truly functional foot orthotic can affect motion all the way up to the back preventing muscles from compressing nerves and bone from pinching nerves, all resulting in better nerve function and reduction of symptoms. Other reasons may be a reduction of shearing and pressure forces on the soft tissue, both of which may irritate nerves.
So, can foot orthotics improve neuropathy symptoms? Yes, if you have biomechanical faults or malalignment/malfunction of the feet they most certainly may help. Can’t hurt, might help is always better than…Try this drug!