What are Orthopedic Insoles?

M.C. Huguelet

Orthopedic insoles are inserts which are placed into the shoes to correct abnormalities in foot and ankle function, particularly overpronation. They work by supporting the feet and realigning the stance, which can in turn relieve pain and discomfort in the heels, arches, ankles, knees, hips, and lower back. There are two main types of orthopedic insoles: the relatively inexpensive “one-size-fits-all” variety, which are available at many pharmacies and specialty shoe stores, and more the expensive custom-made variety, which can be obtained from a podiatrist or from orthopedic product retailers.

Shoe insoles.
Shoe insoles.

Many people are affected by a condition known as overpronation, in which the ankles roll inward as one walks. This condition can be caused by many factors, including flat feet, age, and obesity. When the ankles roll inward, normal function of the muscles, tendons, ligaments, bones, and joints of the entire lower body can be disrupted, often causing discomfort and pain throughout this area. Orthopedic insoles are inserted into the shoes to support and stabilize the feet, thus discouraging overpronation and reducing musculoskeletal discomfort as a consequence.

A podiatrist or orthopedist may recommend custom-made orthopedic insoles to help correct abnormalities affecting the foot or ankle.
A podiatrist or orthopedist may recommend custom-made orthopedic insoles to help correct abnormalities affecting the foot or ankle.

Generally, orthopedic insoles are made from a spongy or rubbery material which is rigid enough to support the foot but soft enough to provide shock absorption. They are usually designed to fit easily over the existing insole of most closed-toe shoes. Many people prefer orthopedic insoles to orthopedic shoes because the insoles can be transferred from one pair of shoes to another, allowing the user to switch shoes without sacrificing foot support. Additionally, because they are concealed within normal shoes, orthopedic insoles are usually less noticeable than often-bulky orthopedic shoes.

“One size fits all” orthopedic insoles are widely available from pharmacies, specialty shoe stores, and online retailers. Generally, this type of insole offers those with foot and ankle conditions a relatively affordable, easily obtainable source of support. On the downside, however, it is generally available only in limited sizes and shapes, and thus may not provide relief for a specific foot or ankle abnormality.

Custom-made orthopedic insoles can be obtained through a podiatrist or from an orthopedic product retailer. This type of insole is usually made by first producing a cast of the subject’s foot, and then using that cast as a mold to create an insole that conforms exactly to his foot shape. Due to their precision, custom insoles generally provide better support than “one size fits all” products. It should be noted, however, that this type of insole can be costly, and can take several weeks to produce.

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Discussion Comments


Insoles are certainly are not a 'one-stop-shop'. What works for me will probably not work for you. Some shoe inserts are partials (for just the heel, arch, or metatarsal pad), some are 3/4 (to allow more toe room), and some are pure pad versus a full solid orthotic support that not only provides cushioning but proper heel and arch placement.

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