Better Me

Are Over-the-Counter Insoles a Waste or Worth It?

Are you exercising and on your feet more these days? That’s great. Movement and healthy activities are wonderful for your heart and soul, but they are sometimes tough on your other sole: your feet.

If you’re dealing with foot pain or your shoes are lacking support, there’s an easy (and affordable) way to make your shoes more comfortable. All it takes is slipping in a quality over-the-counter insole to get you back on your feet.

For those with mild to moderate foot conditions, you don’t have to spend a pretty penny on custom-designed orthotics out of the gate. They can be really pricey and may not offer any better relief than your off-the-shelf styles.

Insoles versus custom orthotics

In one corner, you have your over-the-counter insoles, and in the other, your custom orthotics. One will run you about $40 and the other $400. If price is no object, which one is better?

“People can debate all day about insoles versus custom orthotics, but if the off-the-shelf brand does the job – game over,” said Joseph Dobrusin, DPM, a Banner Health podiatrist in Arizona. “For a mild to moderate issue, they do a nice job.”

If you find your insoles aren’t doing the trick and you are suffering from frequent foot or ankle complications, however, see a board-certified podiatrist. They are trained to evaluate your specific biomechanics and the reasons for your aches and pains. If you require a custom orthotic, it won’t simply be a one and done appointment and may involve several appointments. That’s because custom orthotics don’t come out of a box. They are built from a flat slab of plastic that is custom fit to meet your needs.

But buyer beware when looking for custom orthotics, Dr. Dobrusin cautioned. “Some of these mail-order and big box retail stores claim they have ‘custom’ foot orthotics, but really they just come out of a box and are modified or tweaked,” he said. “They’ll still charge you just as much, but they are far from custom – they’re prefabricated – and could create other problems for you. Make sure you see a specialist; someone trained.”

Benefits of over-the-counter insoles for shoes

If you’ve never been down the foot care section of your local pharmacy, you may be surprised to find there is quite a selection. Not only can insoles provide much needed pain relief for foot, ankle and leg issues, they can also provide a wide range of benefits focused on aligning feet into a healthy position when standing, running and walking.

Here’s a breakdown of some of the benefits insoles provide wearers with:

  • Enhances the comfort level of your shoes
  • Prevents blisters, irritation and discomfort
  • Improves your posture
  • Realigns your feet if you overpronate (roll in) or supinate (roll out)
  • Provides arch support
  • Reduces muscle fatigue
  • Improves heel cushioning
  • Eases back, knee and hip pain
  • Provides shock absorption

How do I choose the right insole?

Unless you require a specific orthotic insole, choosing the right over-the-counter insole will depend on the specific issue you have with your shoes and what feels most comfortable to you. Learn more about the different types of insoles.

If the balls of your feet are burning or aching, especially if you wear high heels, a ball or foot cushion can give you added comfort by reducing pressure on your metatarsal bones. These pads are usually smaller than a full insole and can fit neatly in tight-fitted shoes like heels.

If you have flat feet, a foot insole that controls heel pronation (when the foot rolls inward) and provides arch support may help.

If you have high arches, look for a softer insole that provides support and flexibility.

If you suffer from bunions, consider ¾ length insole to give more room in the box (front) of the shoe.

If you have heel spurs, look for an insole with a deep heel cup and arch support.

Important tips to remember when considering insoles

  • Check your shoes. Many times, excess wear and tear, mostly on the lateral heel and heel counter, can cause you problems. A new pair of shoes may do the trick without having to purchase insoles.
  • Buy good quality shoes that are comfortable to YOUR foot. Most good quality running shoes or equivalent can be extremely beneficial for your feet.
  • It’s about comfort. Rigid insoles may be more functional, but they can be uncomfortable. Look for soft, semi-rigid insoles.
  • Remove the insert that comes with the shoe before inserting the insole. Putting the insole on top of the other can make shoes even more uncomfortable and possibly more painful.
  • If you are diabetic or have other pre-existing conditions that affect your feet, see your doctor before purchasing insoles.
  • If they do the job, great! If they don’t, then see a board-certified podiatrist. “It’s like those readers you get from a store or pharmacy. They aren’t prescription, but they are cheap and do a good job,” Dr. Dobrusin said. “But if you find you get headaches and they aren’t helping enough, it’s time to see the eye doctor. The same is true for insoles and custom orthotics. If it’s not working, see your doctor.”

Still have pain and discomfort?

If new quality shoes or over-the-counter inserts aren’t helping with your pain, consult with a board-certified podiatrist. Banner Health has skilled doctors available to diagnose and treat your specific, unique issues. To find a Banner Health doctor near you, visit

From flip-flops to hiking boots and blisters to funky feet, learn more about how to protect your tootsies. Get a leg up on foot health by checking out these quick reads on our Banner Health blog.

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