For some people, eliminating 100% of their foot pain is not always possible with just wearing good and proper fitting shoes, no matter how great they are. So, what are other measures you can take in order to feel great on your feet and find relief? This is where orthotic insoles, also known as shoe inserts, enter the picture. Orthotics are either custom or over-the-counter. Custom orthotics are made to order to the exact shape of your foot and foot ailment. Over-the-counter types can be bought online, in shoe stores or pharmacies. In this blog, we will focus on over-the-counter orthotics.
At first glance, an orthotic insole looks like the footbed that comes inside you shoes. However, make no mistake, most of the shoes on the market have a flimsy and thin footbed that doesn’t even come close to a “real” orthotic. With today’s advanced technologies and state-of-the-art materials, orthotic insoles have come a long way and can cater to almost any foot problem, fit in any shoes, suit any activity and come in a variety of price points to fit even the conscious spender.
Let’s explore the role of the orthotics, the different types (and there are hundreds!) and what features to look when purchasing a pair.
Types of orthotics
Orthotics serve many purposes. Some are designed for those who have no foot issues and just want to get comfort and support in their shoes. People with healthy feet who wear orthotics will be prone to less foot and body injuries and will prevent future foot problems from occurring. Others are geared for an activity and are constructed with the action of the activity in mind. For example, running orthotics focus on energy return, sock absorption and lightweight materials. While orthotics for hiking need to offer much stability, support and cushioning for difficult terrain. And then there are orthotics that serve to combat a specific condition such as diabetes, plantar fasciitis, knee pain and so on. A diabetic orthotic should be constructed with special materials to protect the sensitive foot which has lost sensation and offload pressure from specific hot spots.
Arch Support: Orthotic insoles usually have one main thing in common and that is their arch support. This too can vary, with some having more defined arches than others. Since feet come in all shapes and contours including flat feet, high arched feet, and everything in between, it is important to purchase one that fits. The best arch support insoles will support the plantar fascia ligament which connects the heel bone to the base of the toes. It keeps the foot in a neutral position to prevent it from rolling inwards while you walk and aligns the body from the ground up. This helps prevent injuries and ensures the body is moving correctly and biomechanically.
Proper biomechanics affects many different parts of the foot such as alignment of the big toe joint, knees, hips, and lower back. When dysfunctional, it can lead to various foot conditions such as bunions, plantar fasciitis, heel pain, morton’s neuroma, metatarsalgia and more.
Cushioning: Our feet want to experience ‘cloud like” comfort! Cushioning can be achieved by either the type of materials used or the number of layers an orthotic has. Our feet will be protected from the hard surfaces we step on and impact forces will be evenly distributed along the foot for a smooth stride.
Materials: Orthotics can be constructed from rigid materials or squishy ones. The materials selected determine the purpose of the orthotic. Hard materials generally hold up better and provide more control. Soft materials provide much energy return, disperse shock forces and cushion the foot. They have the ability to offload pressure points when they conform to the exact shape of the foot over time. Many orthotics are made from a combination of soft and hard materials to create a good overall orthotic. Where the materials are placed also plays an important role. A thick layer of gel or foam pad placed in the heel area at the bottom of the foot is essential for protecting a thinning fat pad due to years of activities. Extra cushioning in the forefoot area is great for to provide relief from excess pressure on the ball-of-the-foot.
Top cover: the material that comes in direct contact with the foot is the top cover. Innovative technologies are used to create surfaces that prevent the buildup of bacteria, fungi and odor and wick moisture away from the foot. This promotes a healthy foot environment, particularly for sensitive feet that have lost sensation from diabetes or neuropathy. There are even orthotics lined with fur that can fit in boots and help keep feet cozy and warm!
Rearfoot: There a few different types of rearfoot constructions. However, for most people a cupped heel is the best options as it hugs the heel, providing stability and cushioning to the fat pad, reducing pain in the heel area.
Forefoot: Does the orthotic have metatarsal support in the front of the foot behind the toes? The best insoles for metatarsalgia are designed with thick cushioning targeted in the forefoot that will help deflect stress from the painful area and provide much need shock absorption.
Thickness: Depending on the type of shoe you have, the footbed can either be pulled out or can’t because it is glued to the inside. This will determine the type of orthotic you can insert. If the footbed cannot be removed, a thinner orthotic is needed to fit a shoe with little or no extra depth. This will ensure your feet still feel comfortable with the added thickness. If the footbed can be removed, the shoe can probably accommodate a thicker orthotic. The thickness also defines the cushioning as described above.
Length: Orthotic insoles can be categorized to full length or ¾ length. A full length orthotic extends from the heel to the end of the toes – the full length of the shoe. A ¾ length orthotic usually extends to the ball-of-foot area. Which one you choose depends on whether your shoe has a removable footbed or not. For example, pumps or ballet flats have a narrow shape at the forefoot and do not have a footbed that can be taken out. This creates a tight space and a shorter orthotic is needed.
There are many brands out there that offer good orthotics. But to make it easier for you, we have highlighted some of the best insoles for women and men.
Best Orthotic Insoles for Women & Men
OFG Orthotic Insoles
This orthotic works for most shoes and foot conditions. It provides mild arch support that feels great under the foot and heel to toe cushioning. It is best suited for shoes with removable insoles. This orthotic also includes a bonus Arch Booster which when placed under the insole, enhances arch support and reduces pressure at the heel and ball-of-the-foot. Forefoot thickness ¼”. This is the best insole for walking, and everyday activities that will support and comfort your feet from morning till night.
¾ Length Orthotic Insoles
This unique orthotic fits well in shoes where the footbed is not removable and the shoes are medium and wide width shoes, which excludes heels. Its supportive shell and foam padded heel seat under the heel works wonders for heel pain and plantar fasciitis.
BioSole Gel Sport
Designed for high impact activities to provide shock dispersion and enhanced arch support. The unique arch design, filled with polyurethane foam and cushioning gel, dynamically shapes to the contours of the foot. It provides customized support and alleviates discomfort and fatigue off your feet, all the way up your knees and low-back. Suitable for shoes with removable insoles. Forefoot thickness 3/16”.
BioSole Gel Thinline
If you want enhanced arch support, but your shoes either have a removable insole that is relatively thin, or an insole that is not removable and very little extra depth in the shoe, then these orthotics are ideal. Designed with an extra thin construction with forefoot thickness of 1/16”.
BioSole Gel Dress
These are insoles for women who wear heel and dress shoes with a narrow shape, no extra depth and footbeds that are not removable which makes it tough to fit regular orthotics. This unique orthotic is 3\4 in length and provides anatomical arch support. Wearing heels will feel like you’re wearing sneakers!
If you have sensitive feet such as diabetes, neuropathy and arthritis, these orthotics offer mild arch support with the most protection. Their top cover material is especially formulated for feet that have lost sensation. They are designed with extra cushioning foam that dynamically shapes to the contours of the foot and alleviates pressure. Total forefoot thickness of 3/16”.
Not sure which orthotic insoles you need? Not to worry. Orthofeet, an orthotic footwear and insole company offers a simple way to determine what orthotic style is best for you. Take the short quiz and based on your answers, it will recommend the orthotic style for your gender, shoe type, and foot condition.