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Orthotic Insoles

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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HOW MUCH DO ORTHOTIC INSOLES COST?

feet

Orthotic insoles are a common way to give off-the-rack shoes more support and help you get relief from foot pain. But with so many products on the market, it can be hard to know which is the right product and if the cost of an orthotic insole is worth it.

HOW MUCH DO ORTHOTIC INSOLES COST?

As with most products, the cost of an orthotic insole depends on the materials and the quality of the product. Cheaply made insoles using poor quality or cheap materials may be tempting, but they are likely to wear out quickly or fail to deliver on their promises. This post will give you an overview of the various kinds of orthotic insoles and cover what each type costs.

CUSTOM ORTHOTICS: HIGHEST COST OPTION

Custom orthotic insoles are often the most rigid (and uncomfortable) insoles. They are custom created to address a person’s specific foot issues and provide the most rigid support for proper alignment for people who have complications due to diabetes, severe pain due to flat feet, or other issues. Custom designed orthotic insoles will give you a perfect fit, but at a price. 

medical orthotic insoles

Custom orthotic insoles are often prescribed by a podiatrist and requires doctor visits and fittings in addition to the cost of the actual orthotic. The cost can run $300 or more. Some health insurance companies will cover a portion of the cost, but not all insurance plans cover orthotic insoles.

The upside to the cost is that custom orthotics can last for years before wearing out, making them a good investment for those who truly need the customized support.

GEL INSOLES: CHEAPEST OPTION

Gel insoles are a common choice for people seeking relief from foot and joint pain because they are affordable, easy to find in the store, and are a relatively effective non-prescription way to provide comfort—at least in the short term.

Gel insoles cost between $10-$20 for a pair, such as the Dr Scholls brands. While they are affordable and feel good on the feet once added to the shoe, they do not last long. Gel insoles begin to break down after a few weeks of wear and may not even last a few months. While the cost is enticing, the cost of continually buying insoles can quickly exceed the cost of buying a higher-quality product.

FOAM INSOLES: A WIDE RANGE OF PRICES AND COST

There are many, many foam insoles on the market today, many of them promising long-lasting comfort for an affordable price. Foam insoles can vary in price from $25 to $55. They tend to cost more than a gel insole and are more likely to provide short-term stabilizing support and low arch support for people with foot and joint pain. 

foam insoles

However, the quality of these insoles can vary greatly. Some are simply made of memory foam, while others have a thin base beneath the foam to provide a bit more stability. Buying an insole that is of a higher quality will get you better results and more relief at a reasonable price, providing cushioning for people who stand long periods, and stability for those who need more support.

Unfortunately, the amount of time a foam insole will last in an everyday shoe isn’t much longer than a gel insole. Plastic foam will break down in about four to six weeks, lessening the cushioning and the effectiveness of the insole. Although a foam insole may be effective, the cost compared to how long they will last should be a consideration for consumers.

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SEMI-RIGID ORTHOTIC INSOLES: MODERATE PRICE FOR LONGER-LASTING RESULTS

Semi-rigid orthotic insoles cost anywhere from $50 to $100, and while this is a higher price point, they are made of firmer material that tends to last longer than foam alone. Semi-rigid orthotic insoles also provide the most benefit for the money. For example, the dynamic arch support and energy return of SelectFlex (shown here) costs one quarter the price of medical orthotics. It also features a medical grade footbed for maximum comfort. We recommend a medical grade footbed not only for comfort, but because this material is durable enough to last and not break down within a few months of wear. 

If you are concerned about cushioning and comfort, there are some semi-rigid orthotics that also include a foam top cover that provides cushioning, while also giving firm arch support and stability to relieve chronic foot pain.

semi-rigid insoles

For those who have issues caused by overpronation of the foot, look for an insole with a medical-grade shell and a deep heel cup to ensure proper alignment of the foot as you walk. For people with flat feet, high arches, or foot pain issues like plantar fasciitis, look for a semi-rigid insole that has an adjustable arch so you can customize your level of comfort. An adjustable arch, also known as a dynamic arch, provides an added value to anyone who needs different levels of support depending on the activity, or has struggled to find an insole that gives enough arch support.

 For the cost, a semi-rigid insole can provide the best of both worlds, cushioning comfort, arch support, and high-tech materials that return energy to your foot with every step, reducing pain and allowing you to be on your feet longer.

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