Which is the right insole for us? Is it one that can be found in a drug store or supermarket? One that I saw in a shoe store? How about the guy in the mall who told me I can stand on a platform for a custom fit? Do I need to see a doctor?
Let's start at the bottom. The insoles you will find in a pharmacy are little more than replacement sock-liners for your tennis shoes. They offer little support due to being highly flexible. The gel insoles offer no support, but do offer cushioning for those whose natural fat padding has worn away.
The next level is an insole that you'll find in an athletic shoe store. These often have a plastic, graphite, or rubber shell that, while flexible, does offer support. Who are these right for? Anyone having minor to moderate pain in the heel, Achilles tendon, shin splints, or elsewhere in the foot should notice some improvement. If the pain persistes beyond two to four weeks, you should consult a podiatrist. A word of warning: These are generic arch supports that are appropriate for those with "flat feet." If you have a high arch, these insoles may make your pain worse.
Then there are the "experts" at shoe stores and mall kiosks who pull out all of the bells and whistles with a seemingly high-tech computer force plate to measure the pressures beneath the foot. Don't waste your money! First of all, a static footprint tells very little about how the foot functions when walking. Second, before you drop lots of money on something custom, be sure that the person has a degree and not just bought into a franchise.
I'm not telling you that everyone needs a custom orthotics. I do feel that if you are suffering with foot pain to the point where you need to find a fast solution, visiting a podiatrist will ultimately provide you the most comprehensive evaluation and will work to develop a complete plan for eliminating your pain. A custom orthotic is much more than simply an arch support; it is a device formulated to balance your feet, and entire lower extremity, to allow them to function most optimally.
If you have trouble seeing when you drive, you wouldn't solve it by buying a pair of one dollar reading glasses in the pharmacy, right? Would you want any less for your foot pain?
Dr. Andrew Schneider is a podiatrist in Houston, TX and is the medical director of Tanglewood Foot Specialists. He treats all injuries and conditions of the foot and ankle. For more information and many informative videos, visit http://www.tanglewoodfootspecialists.com and his blog at http://tanglewoodfootspecialists.blogspot.com