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CUSTOM MEDICAL ORTHOTICS vs. OVER-THE-COUNTER (OTC) INSOLES

If you’re suffering from foot, leg or back pain, perhaps you have tried over-the-counter (OTC) retail insoles (also called prefabricated insoles) to ease your discomfort. Maybe you have even tried custom medical orthotics that were prescribed for specific ailments. In either case, both options have pros and cons which we will help explain.

The Quick Fix - OTC Insoles

If you’re in overall good health, there’s no harm in trying OTC insoles. Studies show that the nonprescription variety can be as helpful as custom versions for certain conditions (Berkeley Wellness). For instance, in a 2014 study in Musculoskeletal Care, people with plantar heel pain who wore prefabricated insoles for eight weeks had the same reductions in pain and disability as their counterparts who wore custom orthotics—at considerably lower cost. Though OTC insoles can be 1/10th the cost of custom medical orthotics ($15 - $50), there are often tradeoffs in terms of support, firmness, durability, and comfort.

OTC insoles fall into 3 categories:

  1. Foam insoles. When first inserted in shoes, foam insoles usually provide some level of comfort. However, due to lack of firmness, they offer minimal arch support. In addition, foam inserts tend to degrade very quickly and have a wearable life of less than 2 weeks.
  2. Gel insoles. Gel typically provides more support than foam but, because they offer no firmness, gel inserts are not considered a viable solution for long-term ailments.
  3. Rigid inserts. Rigid inserts are usually a piece of hard molded plastic placed under the heel or arch. Although they do provide support for those areas and are typically the least expensive OTC option, most people aren’t comfortable with this level of rigidity.

The Costly RX – Custom Medical Orthotics

If you have a serious foot, knee, hip, or back problem, it is well advised to see a doctor first, preferably a Podiatrist, Certified Pedorthist or Orthotist. Custom medical orthotics require a physical exam and digital foot mapping. Given this fundamental difference, custom medical orthotics can bio-mechanically correct / address the way you personally experience knee, heel or arch pain, and some lower back issues (Podiatry Today). They may also be recommended for specific biomechanics issues or health conditions.

Custom medical orthotics have the obvious benefit of being crafted to treat specific ailments for individual feet, but they also offer a longer wearable life (3-5 years is suggested) (Pain Science). However, their extended useful life is due to a higher level of rigidity than most OTC insoles. Though they may treat or provide support to specific areas of the foot, the rigidity may also cause additional discomfort and can become an issue if a foot or ailment profile has changed over time.

The biggest deterrent people face when considering custom medical orthotics is cost. Typically, they range between $400-$600, which amounts to more than 10x the cost of prefabricated insoles. Thus, if a less-costly OTC solution will ease a foot or lower body extremity ailment, most consumers are apt to go in that direction.

The Best of Both Worlds – Adjustable Arch Control Insoles

OTC insoles are accessible to everyone at retailers and pharmacies everywhere for reasonably low prices. However, they don’t always provide enough support due to the nature of the materials and one-size fits all mass manufacturing. On the other hand, custom medical orthotics may make a difference when OTC remedies fall short, but they can also be cost prohibitive as well as too rigid, causing discomfort and other issues.

Luckily, there is a new solution that provides customizable comfort, dynamic support and longer-lasting durability at near OTC prices.

SelectFlex arch control insoles are the best of both worlds. Uniquely, the patented SelectFlex PowerLIFT Arch™ (PLA) is the only insole technology that lifts the arch into correct anatomic alignment, simultaneously providing therapeutic benefits and comfort (ISHN April 2020). With the turn of a key, the SelectFlex PLA is easily customizable to 3 stiffness levels that conform to each individual’s arch and can be adjusted for either foot or type of activity. The chart below clearly illustrates the many enhanced benefits of SelectFlex in comparison to OTC retail insoles and custom medical orthotics.

The ultimate benefit of SelectFlex insoles are felt at day’s end, when dynamic alignment, arch support and energy return leave feet feeling comfortable and refreshed, even after walking miles. Studies show the SelectFlex PLA achieves 52% more arch support with each step in the gait cycle, and the PowerCup™ Heel provides 50% more ankle stability. When combined with the cushioning and moisture wicking PowerBed™, premium engineering and materials, SelectFlex insoles deliver maximum comfort and long-lasting durability at 1/4 the cost of medical orthotics.

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SOFT OR RIGID ORTHOTIC INSOLES: WHICH IS BETTER?

insole measurement

Should an orthotic insole be hard or soft? Which is better for my feet? Trained footwear specialists or pedorthists are asked these questions all the time. One of the most common misconceptions is that softer inserts are better because they provide more cushion. However, when it comes to relieving foot pain, the solution isn’t just about cushioning, but also support.

DO I NEED A SOFT OR RIGID INSOLE?

Soft insoles work differently depending on the type of material they are made from.

  • Insoles made from foam are best for cushioning, support, and pressure relief.
  • Gel works well for shock absorption, to increase your balance, and/or relieve pressure on sores or uncomfortable areas of your foot.

insole

People with foot deformities (bunions, hammertoes), arthritis, and diabetic ulcers can all benefit from soft insoles. This type of insole is constructed from soft materials and may extend along the length of the entire foot. They offer superior cushioning, but often do not address the structural support needs of the foot.

Rigid insoles are used to restrict or control abnormal foot movement. It’s solid construction controls foot movement to ensure correct alignment. Rigid orthotics are constructed from plastic, carbon fiber, or other rigid materials. They are often intended to be worn in walking or dress shoes and can help alleviate or eliminate foot pain, aches, or strain in the lower limbs. The major drawback of rigid insoles is they often can be uncomfortable to wear.

insoles

Semi-rigid insoles combine the cushioning benefits of a soft insole with the motion-controlling aspects of a rigid one. This insole type usually combines layers of soft materials with a reinforced rigid shell to provide a composite structure that improves balance, with degrees of cushioning. This type of insole is excellent for athletic use, especially for athletes who experience pain while training or competing. Children with certain issues, including flat foot conditions, can also benefit from this particular orthotic style.

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WALKING ON SOFT VERSUS HARD SAND

Another helpful way to think about why a soft insert might work better for you versus a rigid insert is to compare it to walking on the beach. The soft sand looks nice and feels nice to lay on, but try walking on it. It’s not easy! The firm sand is pretty easy to walk on. The soft sand makes the muscles of your foot and ankle work harder to stabilize and propel your body forward, while the firm sand provides a stable base of support to walk on.

If you have a soft or a gel insert in your shoe, you have to work harder with every step to stabilize your foot. It might feel good for a few steps, but with 2,000 steps in a mile, that’s a lot of extra work over time. This is why soft and rigid materials combined into a semi-rigid insole is often the most ideal. This hybrid insole provides the best of each insole into one with the most benefits.

BUY A SEMI-RIGID INSOLE WITH GOOD REVIEWS

selectflex insoles

Semi-rigid insoles are often called the next best thing next to custom orthotics. SelectFlex offers the features and benefits of soft and rigid insoles with a deeply cushioned, stabilizing heel cup that also had an adjustable arch with three support settings. Don’t take our word for it. Read a few of the 5-star customers reviews on Amazon.

What makes SelectFlex unique is a patented dynamic arch that lifts your arch with every step to provide dynamic support to your feet. You can ‘Dial-in Comfort and Adjust Away Pain” from the three custom support settings. The SelectFlex dynamic arch will also mold to your unique arch shape over time for maximum comfort.

With SelectFlex’s lifting arch returning energy to the foot, you have more energy at the end of the day. Here’s how much energy SelectFlex returns to your foot per mile:

  • Setting 1: about 20,000 lbs
  • Setting 2: about 25,000 lbs
  • Setting 3: about 30,000 lbs

That will certainly add up at the end of the day, not to mention TGIF end of week. Uniquely, SelectFlex is the only insole that returns energy to your feet and is worth a look from anyone with foot, joint, or lower back pain.

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