The terms insole, orthotic and arch support are all used often in the world of footwear. It’s getting harder to find someone who doesn’t currently wear, or hasn’t in the past worn orthotics. But what is an insole? What is an orthotic? Are they all just the same? And who really needs orthotics?
Each clinician will define insoles and orthotics in slightly different ways which adds to the confusion surrounding arch supports. I believe it is simplest to think of an insole as an over-the-counter device largely used for comfort. Whereas an orthotic is a custom-made device designed specifically for each person and the goal they are trying to accomplish. Both orthotics and insoles provide ‘arch support’ to varying extents, but they’re not just for arch support. There are some simple modifications that can be done on insoles to address common issues. However, custom foot orthotics provide the highest level of support and customization. Orthotics are built from the ground up and require a full foot assessment before being built. This way they can be fabricated to address a number of specific foot needs. Each orthotic is designed for each foot, so your pair of orthotics won’t be identical. We are all unique in our physiology, biomechanics, genetics and goals. What is needed for one person is not the same for the next. Which makes a custom foot orthotic a great option.
People are often scared of the word “orthotic” because they think of the huge brace and orthopedic shoes that their grandparents rocked (or not rocked) years ago. Yes, an orthotic can be that but it’s also a device that almost every pro-athlete has in order to gain a mechanical advantage in a highly competitive environment. Orthotic design is always improving and materials are evolving to produce the same results with a more streamlined design. Shoes have advanced a long way too. There are many more orthotic-friendly options than there were even five years ago. The vast majority of our shoes at Shoe Solutions are orthotic-friendly. We’re always looking for new brands and products to bring in so our customers have what they need and want.
Another thing to remember about orthotics and insoles is communication. Let your clinician know about what you’re feeling, if there’s any pain or past injuries and what your goals are. This is crucial even after receiving a new pair of orthotics. Orthotics often need to be adjusted because even a few millimetres can make a big difference. No one knows your feet like you so speak up! Whether over-the-counter or custom, make sure the device is helping you accomplish the goal you and your clinician established.
If you are treating an injury, compensating for lost function, looking to improve your marathon time or just needing increased comfort during a long shift, custom foot orthotics are worth the investigation (and often insurance subsidized). Footwear including insoles and orthotics should be recommended and provided by qualified professionals. There is a lot of information on the internet, but the internet is not looking out for your best interests. Do your feet a favour and talk to a clinician you trust about all your footwear needs.