Are Custom Shoe Inserts Better Than Over the Counter Insoles?


If you are experiencing significant foot or heel pain that travels up to your legs all the way to your back, chances are that you are suffering from foot deformities or abnormalities that are causing foot imbalance and misalignment.

The treatment for your foot pain would have to be based on proper diagnosis done by a podiatrist. If it has been found that you need extra support for your feet, you are likely to be prescribed a pair custom inserts or over the counter shoe insoles.

You have the option to use custom orthotics or off-the-shelf variety. Logically, it would seem like custom shoe inserts would be the better choice between the two, but other factors come into play including cost, durability, accessibility, effectiveness, and severity of your foot pain. So before you make a decision on which type of shoe inserts to treat your foot pain, you should understand the difference between the two options and determine if custom shoe inserts are indeed better than over the counter inserts.

What’s the difference between foot orthotics and shoe inserts?

Foot orthotics are prescribed custom-made medical devices that are worn inside the shoes to correct any biomechanical foot problems relating to how you move, walk, or run. They are also used by your podiatrist as part of a comprehensive foot care plan to alleviate pain caused by chronic diseases such as diabetes, arthritis, and plantar fasciitis. In addition, individuals with flat feet use fitted orthotics to provide custom arch support to relieve pressure and lessen the pain.

Shoe inserts, on the other hand, are over the counter inserts or insoles that provide support and extra cushion for the feet. Depending on the brand, shoe inserts may be made of plastic, gel, or memory foam. Because over the counter shoe inserts are mass-produced, they are designed to fit into shoes but they are not tailor-made for your feet. Although shoe inserts are effective in reducing the stress for heel pain, they are not specifically designed to correct foot problems.

Custom Inserts

Custom-made orthotic shoe inserts are specifically designed for your feet. Your podiatrist takes into account the shape, size, contours, and arch of your feet so that the insert is customized not only to give the proper support you need but also to address any foot pain that you may be experiencing.   

Typically, your podiatrist will examine how you walk to determine how your feet and ankles are positioned when you move around. Based on the findings, he will prescribe an individualized corrective shoe insert that will then be manufactured in an orthotic laboratory.

They will create a mold of your foot using a 3D scanner. The scanner will capture the contours and arch of your foot which will enable them to create a shell that perfectly fits into your arch. It can be adjusted and modified to fit specific corrective requirements.

Different materials are used in designing shoe inserts including plastic, carbon fiber, or foam, among other things. It would depend on what the problem is and what type of shoe is used.  Different shoes require different fittings, which means you may benefit from multiple pairs depending on the shoe type you wear for specific activities.  This will allow for the best fit for your dress shoes, boots, sneakers, or high heels. Because the inserts have to follow very specific requirements, the process takes about 4 weeks for production. They will also be more expensive than store-bought inserts.

Custom shoe inserts are not just about providing cushion to give you a more comfortable feeling when you walk or run; they are used to treat foot abnormalities, keep your ankles and legs aligned, and make you less susceptible to ankle sprains, shin splints, and other injuries. Because the inserts are custom-made to correct the biomechanical faults of your feet, they support your feet and body.

By using custom shoe inserts, the wear and tear from daily activities is greatly reduced and the damage to your feet is minimized. In most cases, the foot pain is eliminated thus bringing back the normal functioning of the feet.

Over the Counter Shoe Inserts

Over-the-counter shoe inserts are the generic shell shape or arch shape insoles you find in stores. The way to find the right size is to match it to the size of your shoes and then you have to trim it to the desired fit.

Even if you think that it fits well, it will not fit the arch of your foot as well as a custom insert. But even if the inserts don’t fit like they should, they still provide sufficient heel support and cushion to provide some foot pain relief. You’d be comfortable walking in them and may alleviate the pain caused by your foot issues.

Some store-bought shoe insert manufacturers are upping their game and offering some kind of off-the-shelf custom-made hybrid shoe insert. Using a special scanner, sensors on a pressure mat map your pressure points. Then a recommendation for a shoe insert is made using the data from the pressure map.  

Clearly, it is not as precise as a 3D scan but it does accurately determine if you have a high or low arch. Even though it does map your pressure points, it still does not compare to a custom-made shoe insert.  

You’ll also notice that some of the inserts you find in stores are semi-custom fit wherein you can mold the insert yourself by applying heat or dipping in hot water to shape them into the desired fit. A good over the counter shoe insert will give enough cushion and support to reduce the pressure on your feet but it’s not likely to correct any biomechanical faults.

Are Custom Inserts More Effective than Over the Counter?

Custom shoe inserts that are produced from an analysis and examination of your feet and how you walk by your podiatrist will provide better results compared to a generic over the counter shoe insert. This is because custom inserts address the foot problem instead of just reducing pain and managing symptoms.

That’s not to say over the counter shoe inserts are useless. The truth is that shoe inserts available in stores can initially provide foot pain relief.  However, they are not the same quality of medical grade materials and often need to be replaced monthly. Custom made inserts can last for up to 5 years. If you’ve tried over-the-counter shoe inserts and not getting adequate relief, make an appointment with your podiatrist to find out how custom-made shoe inserts can help you with your foot pain.