What Makes a Good Orthotic?

If you’ve ever been to a decent-sized pharmacy, you may have confronted a rack (or wall) full of “orthotic inserts.”

And if you prefer to shop online, there’s an even more dizzying array of products that promise the world—or at least rapid relief for your aching heels and sore arches.

Some are dirt cheap; others moderately expensive. There are gel-filled, rubber, silicone, cork, plastic, polypropylene, EVA, and other options to consider. Words like “premium” and “hypoallergenic” and “enhanced anti-fatigue technology” get prominent placement on slickly designed packaging.

Now, we wouldn’t blame you if you had several questions about this state of affairs:

  • What does all this stuff mean?
  • Does any of this stuff matter?
  • Will any of these actually work? And if so, how would I even begin to choose?

These are all very reasonable questions. And unfortunately, reading the packaging isn’t going to help you much.

But here’s the good news: We can help. But first, there is one thing you need to understand:


A “Good” Orthotic Isn’t as Good as the Right Orthotic

There’s a reason that orthotics come in so many different styles, shapes, and materials. The needs of your two feet may differ substantially from someone else’s feet. Consequently, a “good” pair of orthotics that work really well for someone else won’t necessary do you any good.

We could talk your ear off about the pros and cons of each material or style, but the truth is that it all depends on your specific individual needs.

For example, a really soft orthotic with lots of cushioning might be the perfect choice for someone who has a history of diabetic ulcers, or constant joint pain from arthritis or a bunion. However, it isn’t going to do much good for athletes who needs more rigid support to keep their feet from hyper-pronating. And even then, there are a lot of different minor variations in size and shape that tailor the performance of the orthotics for the individual wearer.

We know: that’s probably not the news you wanted to hear. Sorry to make this seem all the more confusing and difficult!

But it doesn’t mean that all hope is lost. It just means that, instead of staring at the pharmacy rack for hours and picking some inserts more or less at random, you’ll need to start your journey by making an appointment with our team.

The Three “Levels” of Orthotic Support

So if the most important thing about orthotics is whether they are well adapted for the exact shape and condition of your feet, it stands to reason that the more customizable an orthotic is, the greater the probability it can help you.

To that end, we’ll separate orthotics into three basic categories.

  • Pharmacy insoles (usually bad). Choosing orthotics off the rack at the local pharmacy will give you low odds of success. It’s not that all these products are bad or that they can’t work, just that the deck is stacked against you. Most of these options won’t be ideal for your specific needs, and many tend to be made from inferior materials and wear out quickly. Any relief you get is likely to be only partial and temporary.
  • Customizable orthotics from a podiatrist (good). A much better alternative is to just sidestep the confusion and headache and get a pair of customizable orthotics from our office. We’ve already pre-selected a variety of orthotics brands and styles that we trust to deliver good results, and can heat mold them in our office using special tools in order to fine-tune the fit for your feet. As a result, they are much, much more likely to give you the relief you need. Plus, they cost about the same (around $50) as anything you would have bought in the pharmacy anyway.
  • Custom orthotics (best). The ultimate in foot and ankle support, custom orthotics are crafted from the ground up in a special laboratory to fit your feet as exactly as possible. We take a biofoam mold of your feet, which (along with our notes on your diagnosis) is used to cast your orthotics. Compared with the other two options, custom orthotics can successfully treat the widest variety of foot and ankle conditions and offer the best overall results, especially in cases of severe pain or biomechanical defects. They are also made from high quality, durable materials, so they can last several years with good care.

So Which Type of Orthotics Do I Need?

Most people who come to our office do quite well with a good customizable orthotic—the “good” or middle option in the orthotics hierarchy.

That’s awesome news for our patients, because it gives them an easy, affordable option that they can put to work in their shoes right away. You can literally walk out of your appointment in your new pair of heat-molded customizable orthotics, and there’s a very good chance that they will be more than up to the task of alleviating your foot pain.

That said, if your customizable orthotics aren’t working as well as they should, or your foot problem is a little bit more severe, you may need the full power of custom orthotics on your side.

The way to find out for sure which orthotics will be best for you is to make an appointment with Dr. Joel Foster. We’ll carefully assess your feet and ankles and provide customized treatment options, fully explaining the advantages and disadvantages to consider.

To schedule an appointment at our Lee’s Summit office, please call (816) 246-4222 today. If you wish, you can also contact us online to have a member of our team reach out to you.