Walking a new path

Kyle Roberts spent most of his working life building homes and working as a certified public accountant.

However, today Roberts, the owner and founder of Footworks Orthotics Inc., spends his days examining and building orthotics for patients’ feet. Footworks Orthotics serves patients from locations in Milwaukee, Wauwatosa, West Allis, Madison, Pewaukee and Wales.

From 1989 until 2004, Roberts owned and operated Rembrandt Builders, a residential construction firm. Before starting Rembrandt, he worked as a certified public accountant in a large Milwaukee accounting firm.

In 2004, Roberts was looking for a new challenge – which he found while building a home for a pedorthist who served clients including the Milwaukee Brewers, Milwaukee Admirals, Marquette University’s athletic department and Froedtert Sports Medicine. Pedorthists specialize in using shoes or orthotics to solve problems with the foot or lower limbs.

“I was working in home construction for 15 years and while I was looking for new challenges, I found this career,” he said.

Roberts closed Rembrandt Builders and spent the next 18 months working as an apprentice and taking classes in biomechanics and foot anatomy, before taking certification tests.

“Going into the medical field was a big change – you’ve got to learn all the terms and conditions,” he said. “And building houses, everything was straight lines. In orthotics, there are no straight lines.”

Roberts routinely helps patients deal with lower body conditions such as pronation, supination, shin splints, knee pain, plantar fasciitis treatment, arch area foot pain or Achilles tendonitis.

Footworks’ orthotics are designed to replace the insoles of shoes – whether they be running or other athletic shoes, or dress shoes. Roberts makes three different styles of orthotic insoles – a heavy-duty model for running or other exercise, a thinner model designed for casual or dress shoes, and a thin, hard model designed for dress shoes with no removable insole.

“These are so different from anything that comes off the shelf – these (orthotics) are custom made by a medical professional that knows foot anatomy and biomechanics,” Roberts said. “We take a prescription from a doctor, evaluate and treat your foot at a much higher level than anything off the shelf can do.”

Historically, many orthotics have been made of hard plastic. At Footworks, Roberts makes semi-rigid orthotics, which are able to flex with a patient’s foot and incorporate many of the same materials used in running and other athletic shoes.

“These are semi-rigid enough to support your arch, but not so much that they cause pain,” he said. “There’s a lot of science behind foot pain and devices to treat that pain, showing that if something is comfortable, it is much more apt to solve your problem. The most effective orthotics are the ones that are comfortable.”

Footworks does not have its own dedicated office. Instead, Roberts travels to six different locations throughout metro Milwaukee to meet with patients, ranging from running stores to specialty gyms to physical therapy clinics to chiropractors’ offices. When he meets with clients, Roberts looks at a doctor’s written recommendation, examines a patient’s feet and gait and makes a mold of their feet. That mold is used to make the patient’s orthotics, which are hand-made by Roberts.

“They’re custom made in our lab,” he said. “We can make them for different shoes, cleats, ice skates or ski boots. We just need to have the shoe or boot to work with.”

Roberts does all of the in-person interaction with clients. He has one part-time employee who helps him build orthotics, who is also studying to become a pedorthist.

While the company has been in existence for just over three years, Roberts’ client roster already includes the athletic departments of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and UW-Whitewater, Carroll College, Concordia University and the Milwaukee School of Engineering. Most of the patients that Roberts sees from universities and colleges are football or soccer players, who tend to have the most foot problems.

Roberts’ clients also include former Olympians such as Suzy Favor Hamilton, Chellsie Memmel and Matt Tegenkamp, as well as several professional tri-athletes. He has also developed partnerships with several area triathlon and distance running clubs.

For adults, Footworks’ custom orthotics cost $325 for the first pair and about $175 for additional pairs. Roberts charges $140 per pair for adolescents. Each set lasts between two and five years, depending on the amount of use, Roberts said. The company has been able to reach agreements with the WEA and WPS insurance plans, and Roberts is currently negotiating with Anthem and Humana.

He is also working to expand his client list to additional sports teams and orthopedic surgeons.

“That’s the biggest growth area (orthopedic surgeons) because if they understand orthotics, we can have a great synergy,” he said. 

Footworks Orthotics Inc.
Industry: Custom orthotics
Locations: Wales, Milwaukee, Wauwatosa, West Allis, Madison and Pewaukee
Clients: University of Wisconsin, UW-Whitewater, Carroll College, Milwaukee School of Engineering, Concordia University, several former Olympians and professional tri-athletes.

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