Ask the Coach: Trail-Running Orthotics?

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What you should consider if you’re wearing orthotics for trail running

I have prescription orthotics made of molded, hard plastic.  I usually wear them with my daily and road-running shoes.  However, can they withstand creek crossings, rocks, etc.? They aren’t cheap. What is your advice?

—John Garneski, Arlington, VA

Esther Max / Creative Commons 2.0

I’ve been through the same process. The best advice is to find a local cobbler who can top your orthotics with a sturdy material. The sad truth is there isn’t anything that truly will protect them. Grime, dirt and rocks are bound to get into your shoes and create enough abrasion to eventually chew through almost any material.

More importantly, my recommendation is to break your reliance on the orthotics. Unless you have a permanent structural abnormality (such as a leg-length discrepancy), orthotics should be seen as a crutch—a temporary mechanism to fix what is likely a strength or mobility deficiency—not a long-term solution. Relying on them daily will eventually manifest itself in other issues and injuries, because, to relieve musculoskeletal stress from one area, orthotics move the stress somewhere else.

It’s likely that your lower leg and ankles are lacking strength or mobility, or both. See a good physical therapist in your area, get a biomechanical assessment and make a strength plan. At-home treatment should start with Kelly Starrett’s book Ready to Run, which provides the essential standards for preparing your body for a lifetime of running.

This article originally appeared in our September 2015 issue. Have trail-running questions for the coach? Email them to

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