Custom orthotics prevent running injuries in a way insoles just can't

So many runners I’ve met think that shoe inserts are the solution to all their injury problems. Now, as it turns out, at least SOME of them are right. But you also need to remember, that insoles and orthotics aren't the same thing. So, today, I'll walk you through the differences between insolves vs. orthotics. And let you know which device will help protect. And when it's the right (or wrong) choice.

What are insoles?

Insoles are any insert you put in your shoe. I call them over-the-counter devices, because you buy them without a precription. For that reason, they aren't customized for your body. So, they can help with some types of foot pain. But they won't work in other cases.

For starters, insoles can offer extra arch support by changing the inside of your shoes. In that way, they can help make flat shoes more supportive. Plus, they can offer shock absorption and padding for thin soled shoes. So that wearing these types of shoes hurts a little less.

As you can see, insoles can make up for bad shoe choices. But if your feet hurt no matter what shoes you wear, insoles aren't going to do much. Because even the best insoles can't correct problems in your foot structure. (And that's usually the cause of chronic foot pain. Unless you're dealing with an injury. Which insoles also won't resolve.)

In other words, if your feet hurt all the time, you don't need insoles. You need to make an appointment with my office. And you need to start thinking about a more customized insole.

Scanned Insoles Vs OTC Shoe Inserts

You may have noticed foot scanners in the grocery store. If you use these machines, you'll get a slightly more custom experience with your insoles. Now, you won't get the full support of a custom orthotic. But you can get help with foot conditions such as plantar fasciitis. Or receive more support for flat feet or high arches.

If you go for this option, you'll need to know a few things. First, look for insoles made from firm materials. Those flimsy inserts won't make much difference for your pain.

Then, recognize that these scanned inserts are more expensive than OTC products. But they won't offer long term solutions to foot pain. So you may still wind up purchasing custom orthotics. Which is actually a good thing since, research says, orthotics offer the best protection against injury.

Custom Orthotics and Injury Prevention

Special running orthotics can prevent injury and correct biomechanical problems

A study from La Trobe University in Australia, reveals that foot orthotics lower your injury risk by 28 percent. Even better? The custom orthotics in my Houston podiatry practice lower your stress fracture risk by 41 percent.

While that’s great news, it’s the other part of the study that may provide cause for concern. Over-the-counter, shock absorbing inserts, do nothing to prevent injury. In fact, the evidence suggests your injury risk increases when you wear these thinner, flat insoles.

How could that be possible? Well, for starters, the real message of the study is that not all shoe inserts are created equally. (As I mentioned earlier.) Still, good ones (that are built for your body) can make a major difference. By protecting you from injury, and preserving your walking and running comfort.

In this way, custom orthotics can protect you while you run in ways insoles never can. And there's more to orthotics than improved runs. Because we can actually treat certain conditions with custom orthotics. Want to learn more? Check out these other reasons to choose custom orthotics vs insoles: 

Conditions to Treat with Orthotics 

Shin Splints

If you feel pain in your front lower legs when you run, it could be shin splints. And this injury is usually caused by repetitive strain. When you have shin splints, you need to give yourself some rest time to recover from this injury.

But you could also try running with orthotics once you're back to training. They give your feet and legs the biomechanical control you need to reduce the pull of running on your muscles. So your pain stays away once you get back to running.

Heel Spurs

Heel spurs form when you have abnormal bone growth on the bottom or back of the heel bone. They develop due to pressure from the attached tendon or ligament pulling on the heel. Outside of surgery, we can treat this issue with orthotics. (They can reduce pressure and pulling on your ligaments.) We can also pad your heel spurs, change your shoe gear and, if necessary, offer injection therapy.

Plantar Fasciitis Fitting for a custom orthotic

Plantar fasciitis is an injury of the plantar fascia tendon. (It runs along the bottom of your foot from your heel to your toes.) With plantar fasciitis, your tendon becomes inflamed. That often leaves you experiencing terrible pain.

Orthotics can help relieve heel pain. They work by positioning your feet in a way that puts less pressure on the injured plantar fascia tendon.

Achilles Tendonitis

Achilles tendinitis is an overuse injury, caused by excessive pulling of the tendon. It can develop because you started a new exercise program. Or it may pop up when you don’t rest enough between workouts. 

Overpronation, or flat feet, can also contribute to this condition. Because of its causes, orthotics can help relieve Achilles Tendinitis symptoms. They work in much the same way they help prevent recurring shin splints. By restoring control to your feet and ankles. So your muscles pull less, and your tendons don't get stressed.

Wondering how to protect your feet and prevent heel pain? If you're choosing between insolves vs custom orthotics, you've come to the right place! Houston podiatrist Dr. Andrew Schneider is the local authority on custom orthotics. Come into my office for a comprehensive biomechanical examination. I'll take custom molds of your feet and ankles, and discuss if and how custom orthotics could be your best choice.


Dr. Andrew Schneider
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A podiatrist and foot surgeon in Houston, TX.