Custom Orthotics vs. Shoe Inserts (OTC “orthotics”)

When you experience foot pain, it interrupts your day.  In order to find relief you may find yourself looking into shoe inserts available at your local store or visiting your podiatrist.  But how do you know whether you should use a custom orthotic or a shoe insert?  While they may appear to solve the same problems, custom orthotics and shoe inserts are quite different and serve different needs.

First and foremost, it is always best to consult a podiatrist when you are experiencing any kind of foot pain.  Attempting to self diagnose and treat your foot pain could actually lead to more damage.

When you visit your podiatrist to discuss your foot pain they will look at several things: your overall health, lifestyle and activity level, location of discomfort, evaluate the biomechanics of your lower extremities and assess your gait (how you walk).

Once all of these details have been reviewed your podiatrist can determine whether or not an orthotic device is going to resolve your discomfort.  If an orthotic device is what you need, they will present you with either a custom orthotic or a shoe insert.  Let’s look into each type of device for a better understanding of their functionality, purpose, and cost.

Custom Orthotics

Custom orthotics are prescription orthotics fabricated off the specific structure of your feet using either a plaster mold, foam mold or 3D scan.  The details of your gait, problematic area of your foot and the method of treatment all go into determining how your custom orthotics will be made.  There are two main categories of orthotics:

Functional – these are meant to control range of motion by holding the foot in place. They are used to treat such things as tendinitis or shin splints.  Functional orthotics are usually crafted of a semi-rigid material such as plastic or graphite.

Accommodative – they provide extra cushioning and support and can be useful in treating calluses or diabetic foot ulcers.

Custom orthotics typically last 3-5 years and can be refurbished a few times before needing a new pair. They are made from a more durable material designed not to collapse under your weight (meaning they can withstand higher weight ranges), can hold up to increased activity and, can be designed to handle unique shoe situations, all making them superior to OTC retail devices.  Their cost can range in the low to mid hundred dollars and may or may not be covered by your insurance provider.

Shoe Inserts

Shoe inserts are any type of non-prescription foot support that is inserted into your shoe.  They are mass-produced and can be found in many retail stores.  They can be beneficial when you need arch support, additional cushioning, or addressing leg pain.  They cannot treat biomechanical issues, should you have them.  Shoe inserts, specifically medical-grade shoe inserts, can be a wonderful option when custom orthotics are out of reach.  There are a few different types of shoe inserts which include:

Arch supports – for people with either high arches or flat feet. They offer support for the arches and ease discomfort.

Insoles – they offer support on the inside of your shoe. They are typically made out of soft material such as gel or foam.

Heel liners – often used in patients with thinner skin or fat pads, they provide extra cushioning in the heel area.

Foot cushions – used to protect your feet from rubbing against your shoes. They are good for the treatment of calluses or blisters.

Shoe inserts (over- the- counter “orthotics”) typically last up to 6 months at a time.  They are better served for average weighing individuals (up to 120lbs).  Shoe inserts are budget friendly, most can be found for under a hundred dollars and from a variety of suppliers.  Keep in mind that not all inserts will fit all people or shoes and most insurance companies will not cover the cost for them.  They can be a great option when also incorporating a stretch routine to address the pain.

With all of this being said, it is best to see a podiatrist instead of attempting to self diagnose your pain.  At Dr. John D. Hollander, DPM, we will discuss your concerns, determine a plan of action, and if needed, provide you with custom orthotics or shoe inserts that work best for your needs and budget.   Call today to schedule an appointment in our Santa Rosa, CA office (707) 578-1222.