Of course they do. If anyone claims otherwise, they are making it up!
Every single clinical outcome study (patient satisfaction; outcome study; controlled and uncontrolled study; randomized control trial), and there is now a lot of them, has shown that they work (except for one on bunions in kids); every systematic review of the evidence has shown they work; even the esteemed Cochrane Collaboration review has shown they work. The scientific published research on foot orthotics is unequivocal in that they work¹. There is not the slightest shred of doubt about that.
Yet despite that unequivocal data, you still see people claiming that they don’t work. You will notice that they never offer up a single scientific outcome study to back up their claim. More often than not, they might cite an anecdote of a few people in which orthotics did not help. Anecdotes are not data. Every single medical and physical intervention has times when they do not work. Foot orthotics do not work 10, 15, 20% of the time. Knee replacement surgery does not work 10, 15, 20% of the time. Antibiotics for a strep throat do not work 10, 15, 20% of the time. Foot orthotics are no different to any other type of intervention in their success rates.
I have even seen claims that foot orthotics should be banned as they don’t work (those making the claims are not citing any research, except a few anecdotes to back up their claims)². Do they also think we should be also be banning knee replacement surgery and antibiotics as they sometimes do not work? I even recently got into an online debate with a chiropractor who was arguing that foot orthotics should be banned. When I pointed out that there is substantially more scientific evidence for the efficacy of foot orthotics than there was for the efficacy of chiropractic and asked him why he was not also arguing for the banning of his own profession?³ He then shot himself in the foot and demonstrated to all what a vile human being he was by resorting to all sorts of threats rather than debate the actual issue, which is hardly the kind of behavior you would expect from a ‘professional’. Of course, he resorted to all the usual argumentative fallacies, such as cherry picking, confirmation bias etc. He actually got worse when I pointed this out. Dealing with these people goes with the territory and I always appreciate it when they prove me right. (Paradoxically, one of the biggest custom made foot orthotic manufacturing facilities in the world is one that supplies chiropractors!).
What is a responsible clinician to do? Do what the scientific evidence tells them or what a few bloggers and forum rants tells them? Responsible clinicians rely on scientific evidence to tell them when an intervention is better than a placebo to avoid falling into the trap of using ineffective treatments. Foot orthotics have clearly been shown to be better than a placebo according to the evidence.
As always, I go where the evidence takes me until convinced otherwise.
¹Not to mention all the evidence on foot orthotics treating and preventing diabetic foot ulcers and problems with the rheumatoid arthritis foot!
²Tell those with diabetes who have been spared loosing their limbs in an amputation because the foot orthotics healed their plantar ulcer that foot orthotics should be banned and see how they respond! What about those with painful rheumatoid arthritis in the foot. Try telling them that their foot orthotics are not working. Can you see the absurdity of these clowns?
³I don’t think chiropractic should be banned, I was trying to make a point that he did not get.