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.
There are two types of orthotics - 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 inside your 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 shoe, 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 for when purchasing a pair.
Do orthotic insoles really help?
Yes, orthotic insoles keep the foot in its neutral position by providing optimal arch support, preventing over pronation and aligning the foot with the body.
When the body is aligned, the feet, legs, hips and back fall into place, foot pain decreases and the foot and body are less prone to injuries and problems.
Note that good and effective insoles are made from high quality materials that are able to distribute shock forces, prevent them from moving up to the legs and back and provide cushioning, thus softening each step and protecting the foot.
How do I know if I need orthotic insoles?
Everyone can benefit from wearing orthotics.
If your feet are healthy, you can wear orthotics to prevent both foot and body injuries and future foot problems.
If you have a specific problem, orthotics will often be a part of a more comprehensive treatment plan for foot, leg or back conditions, pain or discomfort.
Normally, the goals of such treatments include:
- Aligning foot and body.
- Correcting biomechanical foot flaws.
- Reducing risk of injury.
- Providing support to the foot.
- Allowing the foot to function better.
Here are some signs that you may need orthotics:
- You have foot pain.
- Your feet are swollen.
- You have heel pain.
- You have flat feet.
- You have high arches.
- You tend to fall and have balance issues.
- Your shoes wear unevenly.
- You have a diabetic foot.
- You have foot conditions such as hammertoes, bunions, plantar fasciitis and more.
How do you choose an insole?
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.
Other orthotics 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. For example, 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.
Here’s what you need to know when you choose your orthotics.
Arch Support. Orthotic insoles usually have one main thing in common and that is their arch support. This can vary, with some having more defined arches than others.
Since feet come in all shapes and contours, such as flat feet, high arched feet and everything in between, it is important to purchase one that fits your specific foot shape.
The best arch support insoles will support the plantar fascia ligament, which connects the heel bone to the base of the toes. The orthotics should keep the foot in a neutral position to prevent it from rolling inwards while you walk, and align the body from the ground up. This helps prevent injuries and ensures the body is moving correctly and biomechanically.
This is important because proper biomechanics affect 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. Thanks to the cushioning effect of orthotics, your feet will be protected from the hard surfaces you 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 and 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 an effective 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, while extra cushioning in the forefoot area is great for providing 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 are a few different types of rearfoot constructions. However, for most people a cupped heel is the best option 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 in the forefoot to help deflect stress from the painful area and provide much needed shock absorption.
Thickness. Depending on the type of shoe you have, the footbed can either be pulled out or 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 the 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, and 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 is ¼” and these orthotics are available in sizes 5 to 12 for women and 7 to 15 for men, while half sizes are also available, so everyone can find a suitable size.
The antimicrobial top layer fabric helps keep the foot dry and odor free.
This is the best insole for walking and everyday activities and it 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.
While this orthotic provides support to the heel and arch, the toes are free. The supportive shell and foam padded heel seat under the heel work wonders for heel pain and plantar fasciitis, thanks to the unparalleled protection it provides to the fascia and heel.
These highly durable orthotics are very versatile and can be used in almost any shoe type.
BioSole Gel Dress
Insoles that were specifically designed for women who wear high-heels, ballet flats and other dress shoes with a narrow shape, no extra depth and footbeds that are not removable, making it tough to fit regular orthotics.
This unique orthotic is 3\4 in length and provides anatomical arch support, comfort and pain relief, so wearing heels will feel like you’re wearing sneakers!
In addition, the EVA cushioning provides protection for bunions and the lateral side of the foot, and the polyester mesh lining makes sure the feet stay dry and cool.
Available in sizes 5 to 10.
If you have sensitive feet due to conditions such as diabetes, neuropathy and arthritis, these orthotics offer mild arch support with the most protection, since 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 on the feet, ankles and knees, while their deep heel seat helps alleviate heel pain.
Total forefoot thickness is 1/4”. These orthotics are suitable for wide shoes and for shoes with removable footbeds.