Orthotics: A History of Tried and True Support

by | Aug 20, 2021

Although they seem like quite a modern advancement, prosthetic and orthotic devices have been traced back as far as 2500 BC. 

It is hard to believe that the sophisticated orthotics we provide at Freeland Foot and Ankle Clinic began as little more than a rough invention, crafted out of necessity and the need to survive limb loss. Throughout history, advancements in the field of prosthetics and orthotics have been monumental, bringing us to the modern devices we provide to our patients.

“Orthotic” is a broad term for artificial, biomechanical devices used to support, brace, or align the movable parts of the human body. We focus on foot orthotics, also known as shoe inserts, insoles, arch supports, and more. 

Foot orthotics in their modern form are a valuable tool for treating foot and heel pain, but where did orthotics come from?

Laying the Foundation for Orthotics

There was a surprising level of innovation in the early days of prosthetics and orthotics. 

What we now know as orthotists were then called bonesetters and bracemakers. Through the 19th century, the trade grew through small, self-funded workshops with no formal education in the practice and often no medical training. 

Everett H. Dunbar recorded the first known use of foot orthotics in 1865 in Bridgewater, Massachusetts. These devices would have been a far cry from the sophisticated devices we use today. He used pieces of leather between the insole and his shoes to provide arch support. 

The Foot-Easer was a lighter, flexible metal foot support that made its debut in 1906. The man behind the device? Dr. William Scholl, whose name you might see on a box of his famous, over-the-counter insoles: Dr. Scholl’s.


The Transition to Modern Orthotics

At the tail end of World War I, some of the prosthetic firms in the US gathered to discuss the future of orthotics and prosthetics. Eventually, the combination of limb injury and loss during World War II as well as the polio epidemic of the 1950s ramped up the need for more modern medical technology. 

Demand breeds innovation, and the demand for prosthetics and orthotics was certainly increasing. Improvements were being made to the components of these devices, the materials used to make them, and the clinical skills needed to make and dispense them.

By the 1980s and 1990s, athletic shoe design was changing, and with that came new features like flared heels, contoured soles, and underfoot cushioning. This era brought a stampede of new forms of sports medicine and kinesiology, bringing us to the standardization of orthotics today.


Orthotics Today and Beyond

Today, there are more options than ever if you’re dealing with foot pain. In my experience as a podiatrist, orthotics are an incredible tool. 

These devices have been formulated and perfected over centuries, namely since the 1950s. It is thrilling to anticipate the great strides the prosthetic and orthotic industries will make in the years to come. 

We have helped a great many patients find relief and support using custom orthotics and many other treatments. We’ll happily help you find the best route to relief you need for your foot or ankle issues as well! Call Freeland Foot & Ankle Clinic at (989) 695-6788 or fill out our online contact form to reach us.

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