There are hundreds of insoles out there. Trying to figure out what best suits your needs can be completely confusing. What makes an insole an orthotic, and do you need that? Or do you just need something soft in your shoe? How do you make your feet feel better? Do you need a custom orthotic made by a podiatrist, or will something over the counter do? Here are some guidelines that might help you with the decision-making process.
First off: what’s the difference between an insole and an orthotic? An insole can be defined as anything you insert into your shoe. They can be soft, they can be firm, they can be customized to your feet, etc. Insoles can range from a little spongy shoe-shaped insert that you get from the local drug store, to something that is specially contoured for your foot. There may or may not be any arch support in an insole, and the insole might be designed for a particular shoe(like a replacement insole) or shoe type (like one for athletic shoes).
An orthotic is a specialized type of insole that provides arch support (at a minimum). Some orthotics also provide metatarsal support and a deep heel cup for stability. Orthotics, particularly custom orthotics prescribed by a podiatrist, are typically intended to relieve pain from conditions such as Plantar Fasciitis. Orthotics sold by shoe stores may not be customized to you, but may provide enough support in just the right places to make a difference in your quality of life. A good rule to follow: when in doubt, consult a podiatrist.
Given the myriad of insoles out there, the choices can be overwhelming. First, determine whether you have a high arch, low arch, or have flat feet. Then consider the type of shoes in which you want to use an insole. Finally, figure out what your overall goal is: do you just need extra arch support? Do you pronate or supinate? Do you want extra support for athletic endeavors? Do you want cushioning? Then you can narrow down the available options. Always read the product descriptions for each insole so you have the best chance of ordering what will suit you best!
If you are looking for an insole to add cushioning to your shoes, consider the insoles from Spenco. Generally, they are among the most cushy insoles around. If shock absorption is what you need most, check out the green insoles, like the Full Length Arch Cushions, or the Comfort Slip In Insole. Walkers and runners should consider the Unisex Walker/Runner insole, since there is targeted shock absorption for rear foot impact. The PolySorb Cross Trainer Insole is great if you need an insole for other athletic endeavors (that might require lateral motion). It also contains outstanding shock absorption. Other types of orthotic needs can be addressed by the Full Length Orthotic Arch Supports; this model not only helps absorb shock, it also helps control the position of your feet.
Superfeet insoles are also very popular. Most of them have orthotic properties. The green ones are the most popular, and are intended for sneakers or other shoes with removable insoles. The blue version is meant for lower-profile shoes (i.e. shoes that do not have removable insoles). The orange and berry versions contain added rubbery materials on the bottom for additional shock absorption. The Black DMP contains a memory foam coating on the top that molds to your foot and adds outstanding cushioning and shock absorption. (It is also very durable.) The copper contains memory foam and the energy-enhancing properties of copper. These are just a few of the insoles that Superfeet makes; just be sure that the arch support hits your foot in the right place so you’ll obtain all the benefits intended.
The Aetrex/Lynco brand also has a wide variety of orthotic insoles. Again, it’s very important to read the product descriptions of each of these orthotics; the type you choose should conform to whether you have a high or low arch, whether need extra metatarsal support, whether you pronate, supinate, or have a neutral gait (meaning, do you need a posted orthotic), and what type of shoes and activities you need them for. Need extra support for dress shoes? Check out the L500 series. Need an orthotic for athletic shoes? The Lynco L400 series is designed for just that. How about an all-purpose orthotic for casual shoes? Try the L600 series. If your shoes do not contain removable insoles, the L1100 series is perfect for them. If you love memory foam, consider the L2200 series. And if you truly want to customize your own insole, try the L2400 series; you can remove pieces of the insole in assorted places to provide customized fit and comfort.
Vionic with Orthaheel technology actually began producing insoles prior to creating shoes. These insoles contain very good arch support. If you like how Vionic shoes feel, you’ll love how the insoles feel in other brands of shoes. These are particularly helpful due to their extra padding under the ball of the foot. I personally love these in my hiking boots. With five types of insoles to choose from, Vionic with Orthaheel Technology insoles can also give you several options.
Cork-based insoles mold to your feet for a custom fit. This is one reason why Birkenstock shoes and insoles have been popular for so many years. Birkenstock makes several types of insoles, including: the Blue, which has firm support, a deep heel cup, and a very pronounced arch support. It is intended for shoes containing up to a 1.5″ heel. The Birko Balance, which has a deep arch support and maximum shock absorption. This insole is 3/4 length. The Birko Natural is also a 3/4 length insole but differs from the Birko Balance by having a soft, suede footbed liner.
Pedag also makes a variety of insoles. Some are strictly for cushioning (like the Soft Insoles or Gel Insoles), while others are specialized (like those for dress shoes, or those with metatarsal pads built in).
This is just the tip of the insole iceberg, as it were. The best way to determine what you need is to try them out. Read the product descriptions, talk to your podiatrist, and then see what feels good to your feet. Many vendors have a 30-day refund policy if a particular insole doesn’t work out for you! Don’t suffer with foot pain when an insole or orthotic can make a huge difference in the quality of your life. Check out the myriad options available at footwearetc.com.