Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Both Horses and Humans Need Custom Support!

I’ve spent some time on farms and ranches in my day, so I’ve been around horses and the people who care for those magnificent animals. I learned that every horse is biomechanically different and has specific structural needs. I also learned that the long-term health of a horse can be directly related to the quality of analysis of its gait, how it bears its weight, and the quality of the shoes that it wears. It’s apparent to me that horseshoes are essentially custom orthotics for horses!

It’s also apparent that, when it comes to our weightbearing structures, we humans deserve at least the same considerations that a horse gets. We need to be especially diligent in examining children because of the influence that orthotics could have on their structures during the early years of their development. With older patients, it is obvious when the structure has started breaking down, but it’s not too late to do something about it.

Electronic digital scanning provides adequate analysis of the human foot in the weightbearing position. Flexible, custom-made foot orthotics take into account the complexity of the biomechanics of the foot’s three arches, the 26 bones of the foot and ankle, and of the foot’s relationship with the knee, hip, and pelvic complex.

Shock absorption, structural support, and proprioceptive influence are key features of the custom-made orthotics that have been shown to be the most beneficial. This translates into having a positive influence on growth plates in young patients and slowing down degenerative changes in adults.

What I said about horses also applies to people: Every patient is biomechanically different and has specific structural needs. Genetics, occupation, trauma, shoe type, age, height, weight, and recreational activities are all factors that contribute to our structural uniqueness.

There is no such thing as “off-the-shelf” horseshoes, because the results would be inadequate to accommodate all of the differences not only between horses but in all four hoofs of one horse. In the same way, off-the-shelf arch supports or cushions cannot take into account all the variations of human feet that exist. Nearly all people possess some variation between their right and left feet, which means custom made, flexible orthotics are essential for optimal musculoskeletal support and comfort.

A benefit of replacing older orthotics is to make sure you are still getting adequate shock absorption. It just makes sense that if older orthotics have been absorbing the shock forces of walking and running for a couple of years, it is a good idea to update them so the orthotics are efficiently absorbing those forces, not the knees, hips, and spine. Broken down, arthritic joints are sure to occur if the forces of gravity have not been managed properly.

The ramifications of structural wear and tear in a horse are often the cause of its ultimate demise. A horse will not be allowed to suffer from degenerative conditions. Humans, on the other hand, often spend many years suffering from degenerative changes that could have been prevented with adequate postural support.

(1): Charrette MN. Balance, neurology, and chiropractic care. Practical Res Studies 2005; 20(1):1-4. (2): Hyland JK. Proprioception, alignment, and balance improve with the a-s-r program. Practical Res Studies 2005; 19(4):1-4. (3): Stude DE, Brink DK. Effects of nine holes of simulated golf and orthotic intervention on balance and proprioception in experienced golfers. J Manip Physiol Ther 1997; 20(9):590-601.

Dr. Brian Jensen is currently the Associate Director of Professional Education at Foot Levelers. He speaks on a wide variety of topics, including orthotic therapy, posture, structural preservation, breaking free of the medical model of healthcare, and innovations in nutrition.

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