Many painful foot conditions can be traced back to a fundamental misalignment in the way your feet are structured, or the way your joints move when you walk. Arch supports, removable shoe insoles, and custom orthotics are all tools that a podiatrist may use to provide the additional cushioning, support, or biomechanical correction your feet may need.

If you are suffering from foot pain, there’s a good chance that one of these devices could help. However, only an experienced professional can help you determine which type of insert would be best.

What Are Removable Shoe Inserts?

Removable inserts are non-prescription orthotics that you can buy at a retail store or pharmacy. They are designed to help you alleviate certain aches and pains you might experience in your everyday life. Prominent examples include:

  • Insoles—these cover the full length of the foot and tend to be made from soft materials like gel or foam. They are meant to provide extra cushioning and shock absorption while you walk.
  • Arch supports—these help support the natural shape of your arch in order to distribute your weight more evenly. They have a more “bumped up” appearance.
  • Heel cups—these provide extra cushioning specifically for the heel.

Because they are mass-produced and not prescribed or customized for a specific individual, over-the-counter shoe inserts may not be sufficient for all types of foot pain. A trained podiatric physician can help you determine whether your condition can be treated with non-prescription inserts, or if you require custom orthotics.

What Are Custom Orthotics?

Custom OrthoticsCustom orthotics are specially prescribed by a licensed specialist to provide a personalized fit. Your feet are carefully measured using a mold or digital scan, so that your orthotics can be fabricated according to your exact specifications. Because the fit is so precise, custom orthotics can alleviate tough heel pain to a greater degree than over-the-counter inserts in most cases. They can also treat a wider range of foot and ankle conditions, including flaws in the way you walk.

Custom orthotics are classified as either accommodative or functional:

  • Accommodative orthotics are designed to reduce the pain and pressure from an underlying foot problem—in other words, accommodate it. They tend to be made from soft materials, which provide cushioning and support.
  • Functional orthotics are designed to correct a flaw with the way your feet, ankles, and joints move when you walk—in other words, correct how your feet function. They tend to be made from harder or semi-rigid materials like plastic or graphite.

Custom orthotics are more expensive up front than prefabricated insoles or arch supports. However, this may be offset by a number of factors. For one, custom orthotics are built from high quality materials and can often be adjusted or refurbished rather than replaced—meaning that, when cared for properly, they may last several years. Second, some of the cost may be offset by insurance, depending on your provider.

What Device Is Best for You?

Many over-the-counter orthotics promise you a “custom” fit, and stores may even be equipped with pressure-measuring devices or other tools designed to help you find the right fit. However, we recommend you avoid self-diagnosing.

Instead, make an appointment with the Northwest Extremity Specialists. One of our podiatric physicians will be able to make a specific diagnosis and examine your feet carefully. That way, you’ll know for sure whether you could benefit from some kind of orthotic device—and get clear guidance about which ones will actually work. To set an appointment, please call the Portland-area office closest to you.