Shoe inserts and orthotics: Are they right for you?

Shoe inserts and orthotics: Are they right for you?

While people may downplay foot pain as nothing to worry about, it can be debilitating, forcing you to limit your time on your feet or even to see a doctor. Even worse, structural problems with your feet can lead to poor body alignment and problems like neck and back pain, all from compensating for foot issues. So if you’re having foot pain, you may want to consider using shoe inserts or orthotics to relieve pain and improve your alignment.

Even though shoe inserts and orthotics are often lumped into one category, Kristina Holland, a physical therapist assistant at Clinton Physical Therapy Center (a Physiquality network member in Tennessee), says there is a key distinction between inserts and orthotics: “Shoe inserts are designed to provide comfort, whereas orthotics are designed to correct a structural problem with your foot or feet.” She adds, “Inserts provide cushioning, but do nothing to correct foot problems, like flat arches.” They can be helpful if you’re on your feet all day at your job, or if you run long distances and could use added support in your running shoes.

Orthotics are used to align, improve or correct the lower extremities.Orthotics, on the other hand, are used to align, improve or correct the lower extremities. As Sue Sulley, a physical therapist who recently retired from Rascal Creek Physical Therapy (a Physiquality member in Merced, California), puts it, “Orthotics reposition the components [of the lower extremities] to maximize your mechanical advantage.” Because orthotics correct structural imperfections, it is imperative that they are fitted by a medical professional, like a physical therapist or a podiatrist. This will guarantee that they correct the appropriate problem, and, while more expensive, they typically last longer than off-the-shelf products and will correct your pain issues more effectively.

Tina Shockley, a physical therapist and the clinical director at Progressive Physical Therapy, another Physiquality member in California, reminds readers that many injuries and dysfunctions can result from poor foot alignment. Appropriate footwear and orthotics, therefore, are very important in preventing many injuries.

What are some signs that you may need orthotics? Here’s a partial list:

  • Pain at the foot, ankle, knee, hip or back, which could be caused by misalignment at the foot or ankle
  • A foot or ankle deformity that could affect your alignment
  • A recent injury, strain or surgery to the ankle, forefoot or toes
  • Specific diagnoses, like plantar fasciitis, heel spurs, arch pain or bunions, or even diabetes that has led to foot issues
  • Degenerative changes, including aging feet, falling arches, flat feet, arthritis or loss of fat pads in the feet

And, of course, the number one sign: Pain. Kristina notes that if your pain is bad enough to warrant a trip to the doctor or physical therapist, that medical professional will assess your posture, both at rest and with movement, and will decide whether orthotics are necessary. Once at the doctor, Tina reminds patients to be aware of their benefits. She notes, “Some insurance covers orthotics with a prescription from the doctor, so insurance coverage should be checked.”

Considering shoe inserts or orthotics? Check out these Physiquality partners and look through their line of products:

Archmolds Shoe inserts: Archmolds arch support insoles will help to stabilize your entire foot, supporting your inner and outer foot arches, while relieving and preventing many common problems, including foot, knee and back pain.
VASYLI Orthotics: Reclaim your original footprint with VASYLI custom orthotics and orthotic sandals. Combined with treatment by a healthcare practitioner, these products can help alleviate many types of chronic pain.

Kristina Holland, PTA, has been a physical therapist assistant for 5 years at Clinton Physical Therapy Center, a Physiquality network member in Clinton, Tennessee.

Tina Shockley, PT, DPT, CSCS, is a physical therapist and the clinical director at the Santa Clarita location of Progressive Physical Therapy, a Physiquality network clinic with four locations in Southern California. Tina recently completed her Doctorate of Physical Therapy and specializes, among other things, in custom orthotic evaluations and fabrication.

Sue Sulley, PT, DPT, is a physical therapist who recently retired from Rascal Creek Physical Therapy, a Physiquality member in Merced, California. Sue practiced PT for more than 30 years and was also a board member of PTPN, Physiquality’s parent company.


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For further information, look through our selection of articles on foot care, in addition to the below links:

Plantar fasciitis. U.S. National Library of Medicine, March 1, 2012.

Reynolds, Gretchen. Unhappy feet. New York Times, September 11, 2008.



The material and information contained on this Web site is for information only and is not intended to serve as medical advice or consultation.

Consult your personal physician before beginning any exercise program or self-treatment.