Which Shoe Insole is Right for Me?

We are inundated with advertising for products to make our feet feel better. We’re told to get "gellin'" with Dr. Scholl's insoles or faced with insole-fitting machines at the Walmart checkout. There’s a lot of possibilities to wade through, with only one certain bit of information...our feet hurt!!

Which is the right insole for you? Is it one that can be found in a drug store or supermarket? One that you saw in a shoe store? Or do you need to see a doctor to really get help?

Let's start by examining your most cost-effective options. While tempting for their price alone, the reality is that the insoles you find in a pharmacy are little more than replacement sock-liners for your tennis shoes. They offer little support due in part to their highly flexible nature. Similarly, gel insoles offer no support, but they do at least offer cushioning for people whose natural fat padding has worn away.

Let’s move up a level (and price tier) to examine the insoles you'll find in an athletic shoe store. These often have a plastic, graphite, or rubber shell that offers support while maintaining flexibility. Who are these right for? Anyone having minor to moderate pain in the heel or Achilles tendon; anyone dealing with shin splints; or anyone experience generalized, moderate pain elsewhere in the foot should notice some improvement with the use of these insoles. If the pain persists beyond two to four weeks, however, it’s time to 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.
Shin splints are just one of many problems that a custom orthotic can alleviate
Now, let’s look at the so-called higher tech offerings: those machines with computer force plates that 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 you’re dealing with a science-backed product or a personal representative with some expertise fueling their sales pitch!

I'm not telling you that everyone needs custom orthotics—like I said, some of those athletic insoles can really help people find relief from intermittent foot pain. Having said that, 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. It will also help you 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 your entire lower extremity, so your body can function at its optimal levels.


Enjoying the Benefits of Orthotics

Once you have made the decision to get fitted for a custom orthotic, the will start rolling in. This is just a short list of conditions that can be alleviated with the help of a custom orthotic:

  • Pain in the foot, ankle, leg, and lower back
  • Leg-length imbalances
  • Misalignments in the foot and leg

In addition to correcting existing problems, orthotics can also offer preventative benefits, including:

  • Improving balance
  • Supporting the arch and heel
  • Preventing bunions and hammertoes
  • Absorbing shock and distributing the pressure evenly across the bottom of the foot
  • Preventing calluses, corns, and ulcerations by taking the pressure off of at-risk areas
  • Improving your comfort and performance during athletic or sports-related activities.



Dr. Andrew Schneider
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Dr. Andrew Schneider is a podiatrist and foot surgeon at Tanglewood Foot Specialists in Houston, TX.