What is Up with Cycling Orthotics?
By Ben Stein, MS
For those of you that are unaware of the use of cycling orthotics, they are used along with proper bike fits, cleat alignment, and shims, to adjust body alignment with the geometry of the bike with the intent to improve power and decrease risk of injury. Some orthotics companies even claim to be ergonomically designed and “scientifically tested” to increase power output, endurance, and comfort by optimizing hip, knee, and foot alignment (Specialized, n.d). There is literature on the internet that speaks to these claims and discusses the use of cycling orthotics but little empirical evidence exists to support such claims (Jeffrey, n.d; Zin, 2013, Specialized, n.d). In this blog post I will attempt to gather the research and try to clarify these claims.
What the Research Says:
There is limited investigations into the effects of cycling orthotics and in-shoe wedges used during cycling (Yeo, 2014). Currently, most evidence points to the benefits of orthotics and wedges through increase of contact area under the foot and plantar pressures under the first metatarsal (big toe), but this research has shown no benefit in gains in power (Yeo, 2014; Koch, 2013). Based on the most up to date available evidence, there are no definitive benefits of cycling orthotics on lower body kinematics, oxygen consumption and the effects on power during cycling (Yeo, 2014).
Furthermore, in their investigation of cycling orthotics effect on knee kinematics, Meyers et al. (2015) found that orthotics have minimal impact on lateral knee kinematics. When investigating carbon insoles during a Wingate test (max power output), Koch (2013) determined that there was no significant difference between the control, soft insole, and carbon insole. Additionally, as sited by Callaghan (2005), nearly 30 years ago, it was determined that full length or rear-foot orthotics are often inappropriate in cycling because they are incapable of preventing abnormal knee motion at a high power output.
So What is Up with Cycling Orthotics?:
As the research points out cycling orthotics provide little evidence that they can decrease cycling related injuries or increase power output. Although there is not strong evidence for benefits in cycling mechanics and output, I can personally attest that can optimize comfort in the shoe. I have a pair of custom cycling orthotics (Foot Dynamics, Boise, ID) and feel that the added comfort they provide does benefit me. I put my orthotics into a pair of Bont, heat molded, cycling shoes and feel like my foot is one with the shoe and have very little extra movement. This is most likely the common conclusion for cycling orthotics (Yeo, 2014).
What if I Have an Injury:
In my opinion, cycling injuries are typically due to overuse or a muscle imbalances. Cycling injuries can be due to muscle imbalances in the hips which can lead to misalignment while pedaling. In a recent blog post I touched on exercises to help improve power and decrease injury (link). However, if you are having pain in your feet or feel that you have some over rotation of the tibia caused by over pronation or supination of the foot ,it is best to consult a trained podiatrist or professional foot person 😉
Custom and semi-custom foot orthotics (Specialized, Surefoot) may help re-align the foot, in the shoe, on the pedal and may assist with increased comfort. The three spots On the Bike that the body is in constant contact with: the hands, seat, and the feet; orthotics can play a small role in pedaling mechanics and comfort. However, more research is needed into whether the use of cycling orthotics will decrease the risk of injury, increase power output, and/or improve body mechanics while cycling (Callaghan, 2005; Yeo, 2014).
Callaghan, M. J. (2005). Lower body problems and injury in cycling. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies, 9(3), 226-236.
Jeffrey, S. (n.d.). Orthotics for Cycling | CyclingTips. Retrieved March 04, 2016, from http://cyclingtips.com/2009/04/orthotics-for-cycling/
Koch, M., Frohlich, M., Emrich, E., & Urhausen, A. (2013). The impact of carbon insoles in cycling on performance in the wingate anaerobic test. Journal of Science and Cycling, 2(2), 2-5.
O’Neill, B. C., Graham, K., Moresi, M., Perry, P., & Kuah, D. (2011). Custom formed orthoses in cycling. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 14(6), 529-534.
Specialized: Body Geometry SL Footbeds. (n.d.). Retrieved March 04, 2016, from https://www.specialized.com/us/en/shoes/parts/body-geometry-sl-footbeds/105622
Yeo, B. K., & Bonanno, D. R. (2014). The effect of foot orthoses and in-shoe wedges during cycling: A systematic review. Journal of Foot and Ankle Research J Foot Ankle Res, 7(1), 31.
Zinn, L. (2013). Reviewed: Solestar, Footbalance orthotics – VeloNews.com. Retrieved March 04, 2016, from http://velonews.competitor.com/2013/10/bikes-and-tech/custom-orthotics-offer-support-where-its-needed_304804