Footbeds / Orthotics in ski boots – what are they and why do I need them?

People often ask about the need for footbeds or orthotics in ski boots, if they are so important why do the manufacturers of footwear not provide them? The need for them is clear and explained below, as for why they are not supplied; there are two key reasons, cost and the fact that every foot is different.

The human foot is an engineering masterpiece, 28 bones (26 + 2 small accessory bones) 19 muscles and 107 ligaments, so when we encase this into the hard plastic shell of a ski boot it is no surprise that things start to go wrong. Whether you are walking, running or skiing it is important to understand that we are always dealing with the foot in a dynamic form. Although many of the motions which the foot goes through in normal walking do not happen inside a ski boot there are a few which do, the most damaging being over pronation.

Pronation is the natural twisting motion of the foot in which the arch collapses and the forefoot splays out in order to adapt to the terrain we are on. Excessive amounts of pronation inside a ski boot can cause reduced control, increased pain and a whole host of other fitting problems.

As your foot is 3 dimensional having shape to its underside we need to give whatever footwear you are using the same 3 dimensional shape. (Most footwear; ski boots trainers or day to day shoes are 2 dimensional with no shape to the inside)

Excessive pronation is a very common problem with approximately 80% of people suffering from its effects. The problem can be addressed by using some kind of footbed or orthotic inside shoes and boots, these come in various forms, may be off the peg or custom made, flexible or rigid. The remaining 20% of people who do not suffer from excessive pronation will still benefit from a footbed to offer stability and cushioning to the foot.

Footbeds and orthotics come in many forms and from any outlets, specialist ski and outdoor shops can sell footbeds and orthotics which fall into the flexible to semi-rigid category, fully rigid corrective devices are prescribed by a podiatrist for severe foot problems. For an orthotic or footbed to function correctly it should have a deep heel cup to help cradle the heel bone and its fat pad, the arch area should fill the foots natural arch shape but not push up or dig in. In addition to this it must be made of a suitable material to offer the correct amount of support for the individual. A good footbed or orthotic will stabilize the foot and reduce the amount of harmful excessive pronation, but will allow a small amount to be present, this allows the foot to act as a shock absorber for the body.

Excessive pronation in a ski boot causes many more problems than it would in a soft shoe, due to the hard materials involved. With this in mind footbeds have been commonly used in ski boots for several years. You could consider a footbed to be like a seat in a car, a firm bucket style seat may not seem initially comfortable, but after 500miles will be much more comfortable that the soft spongy one that felt great to start with. Not only will comfort be increased by using a footbed, performance will be dramatically improved, if the excessive pronation is reduced you can apply pressure to the edge earlier allowing for a more precise level of turning and better feel of the ski.

In saying all this there are a small number of people who cannot use, or cannot tolerate a footbed or an orthotic, these people usually suffer from other problems with the general comfort of footwear of all types, the best thing to do is go to your specialist shop, consult the staff there, and if a solution cannot be found at that level consider taking advice from a good podiatrist.

Being correctly assessed for footbeds at the time of purchasing your boots can make a big difference to the boot you end up with and ultimately the comfort and performance you experience.

NB. Footbed prices range from £25 to £90 depending on the level of support you require.

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