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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.