by Jessi Burg
Today’s blog brings the spotlight onto Heather Van Gilder, master boot fitter at Boulder Orthotics. Her mission? Helping people with their feet by getting them properly aligned, so that they can continue to enjoy the activities they love. For those of you who are very active, or work in the trades and spend all day on your feet, keep reading – it is important to pay more attention to your feet, and know that it’s something worth spending the money on!
JB: Why feet?
HVG: My background is in ski boot fitting, but I am also a board certified pedorthist – which is someone who gets referrals from doctors about people who need help with foot support/are tired of their feet hurting.
JB: What is the process like?
HVG: The process goes something like this:
First, we need to figure out what kind of appointment is necessary. I have them fill out an intake form before they come in, and have them bring their footwear so that I can see what needs to be replaced and why. I recommend a brand of shoe, and then mold their feet in a seated position to ensure a perfect fit. I have a lab in the back of the store where I can make the orthotics on the spot, so at the end of a two hour appointment, the customer leaves with custom orthotics. The goal is 90% comfort, and I recommend that they come back in two weeks for a recheck to see how things are settling in. I also sell slippers, because some people need foot support all the time, even when they are walking around the house.
There is a break-in process for orthotics, so I recommend a set schedule for getting used to them to avoid blisters and achiness in the feet or joints as the body gets used to the support. Your bones aren’t used to being supported in those positions, so they need time to adjust. I know that it can be tough for people with certain jobs, like servers or construction workers, to switch out their insoles midday, but breaking them in is crucial.
JB: What other kinds of orthotics do you offer?
HVG: I can build accommodative and functional orthotics. Accommodative orthotics require molding the orthotic to the foot as is, whereas functional orthotics focus on getting the foot and the ankle into alignment so that your ankle bone is sitting right on top of the heel bone. Most retail stores only offer accommodative orthotics.
When I take a footprint I can tell a lot from that, like if one leg is longer than the other. You’re printed barefoot, so the width under the center of your foot should be the same on both sides. If one is significantly wider than the other, you can guesstimate a difference – a true measurement would come from an x-ray, but there are some alignment markers that help with that. If there’s a big discrepancy, you have to build that into the shoe. It’s really fun to help people with chronic pain or lingering issues from polio or childhood illness. I really like being able to help someone who was in pain leave with a smile. Teenage boys are especially fun to work with because they like to act cool, but then I can get a smile out of them.
JB: What got you into orthotics?
HVG: I was a skier, and I went to school for archeology and was really into the bone structure and physical archeology pieces. I took a job fitting boots, and then I branched out into hiking boots and other types of boots. I ended up buying Boulder Orthotics when the previous owner retired. It’s a weird thing to admit that you like working with feet, but I really do love it, and I was required to do a thousand hour internship before I could go to school for it.
JB: What are your top tips for people who are just starting out in the field?
HVG: Spend the money and the time to address your feet. Steel toed boots and concrete floors wreak havoc on the body if you’re not supported, but a properly fitting shoe of good quality makes all the difference. Spending extra money on a good shoe will make a lot of things better – and no one even has to know you have a fancy orthotic in there. The sooner people pay attention to their feet, the happier they will be. If we were hunter gatherer people who walk through the forest all day, barefoot shoes/five fingered shoes would be fine. But pavement is much harder on your feet than a forest floor.
JB: Tell us about running your own business.
HVG: As a business owner, I have more freedom to provide services that I think are beneficial. Other retailers may not want to offer those services, and I wanted to find my own way to help people. As a retail space, your customers come in and expect that they will get whatever they want, but when people seek me out, they want to listen to my expertise because they really just need my help. My customer service is always on point, because there isn’t anyone else there. I think about business growth all the time, and I am always trying to learn new things and continue my education.
JB: What do you wish people knew about your business or your industry?
HVG: Although I’m technically in the healthcare field, it doesn’t feel like a doctors office. It’s very relaxed, and I wear a dirty ski apron and not a lab coat. There is still professionalism and expertise, but it doesn’t feel sterile, if you will.
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