Busting Myths: Custom Orthotics vs. Over-the-Counter Alternatives

Trying to decide if you should splurge on custom orthotics or buy some over-the-counter arch supports at your nearest Walmart? Before you make a purchase, let us help you clear up some misconceptions about your two options. We’ll bust some of the myths surrounding over-the-counter insoles and arch supports.

Myth #1: Over-the-counter insoles are less expensive than custom orthotics.

Truth: Over-the-counter insoles come with hidden costs.

At first glance, you might think the over-the-counter insoles win in the price category. One pair of over-the-counter insoles will have a much softer blow to your wallet than their custom counterparts. But take a moment to think long term.

  • Over-the-counter insoles are made of cheap material. They will not last as long as custom orthotics, and you will need to replace them more frequently.
  • Over-the-counter insoles do not target the specific areas of concern on your feet. Since they aren’t focusing on the areas you need them to, they may cause more harm than good. Over time, over-the-counter insoles will cost more as you increase the number of doctor visits and possibly need more severe intervention (such as surgery).
  • Custom orthotics are medical prescriptions, and some insurance policies offer rebates or discounts on them. You will not receive any insurance assistance paying for over-the-counter options. You will pay for them completely out of pocket.

Myth #2: Over-the-counter insoles are better because they offer immediate relief.

Truth: They offer immediate relief, but over-the-counter insoles don’t provide a long-term solution to your foot problems.

Over-the-counter insoles come in all sorts of cushioning options, such as gel or memory foam. Custom orthotics are more sturdy. If you were experiencing pain and started using the cushioned insoles, you would likely notice immediate relief. Those cushioned insoles, however, won’t provide the long-term benefits that custom orthotics offer.

You might notice that your pain does not immediately dissipate when you start using custom orthotics. You may even experience new blisters or other discomfort as your feet adjust to the new pressure points. After a few weeks, however, you will have made significant progress towards strengthening and supporting your feet the way they specifically need it.

Custom orthotics play the long game. As you consistently use your custom orthotics, you will notice changes. Your feet will feel better. You may experience less back pain. You could find relief from pain you didn’t even realize you had.

Myth #3: Over-the-counter insoles are better because they shape my foot how it should be shaped.

Truth: Feet are not one-size-fits-all.

Everyone is different. Everyone’s feet are different. The shape of your arch, the size of your toes, and the width of the ball of your feet are all unique to you. One size does not fit all when it comes to feet. Your goal with orthotics is not to make your foot conform to a standard shape but rather to provide the support your foot specifically needs.

Over-the-counter insoles are mass-produced for only one shape and size because stocking and displaying individually sized insoles would be logistically difficult. They are not designed with every foot in mind. They may provide relief and help to some, but they won’t provide the tailored treatment custom orthotics offer.

Myth #4: I can do any activity in any insole.

Truth: Your feet will be better supported in orthotics specific to your activity.

Perhaps this one isn’t so much a myth; yes, you CAN perform any activity in any insole. You are more prone to injury, though. Be specific about the type of activity you plan to do in your custom orthotics. Basketball players and trail runners will have different orthotic needs. Your orthotics will have exactly the type of support you need to participate in your favorite activity.

Myth #5: Orthotics are only for people with arch pain.

Truth: Orthotics are beneficial for many conditions.

Custom orthotics can be used to alleviate pain from a variety of conditions, such as:

  • Flat feet
  • Heel spurs
  • Bunions
  • Hammertoes
  • Plantar fasciitis
  • High arches
  • Bursitis
  • Arthritis
  • Back pain
  • Diabetic neuropathy
  • Recurring foot injuries

What sets custom orthotics apart from other options is the customizable part. Your podiatrist will be able to help you target specific goals you would like your orthotics to help with.

Custom orthotics are made by making scans of your feet in different positions. Your podiatrist will then analyze where support would be beneficial. They can choose the type of material based on the needs of your feet. The orthotic will be made from a cast of your foot to ensure it fits just as it should.

If you think you are a good candidate for custom orthotics, talk to a custom orthotics podiatrist about your symptoms and the best way to address them. Your podiatrist can help you find the best orthotics for you.

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