Do I REALLY Need Custom Orthotics for My Foot Pain?

Sep 24, 2020

Whether you’re shopping for groceries, electronics, clothes, cars, or anything else, you’re almost always faced with choices about “quality” versus “cost.” Do you get the name brand or the store brand? The steak dinner or drive-thru? The fancy (and expensive) 4K OLED television, or the $150 doorbuster?

You might feel the same way if you’re suffering from foot or ankle pain and thinking about adding some extra arch support and cushioning in your shoes. Pharmacy shelves are filled with inexpensive insoles and can range from $20 to $30 per set. So do you REALLY need custom orthotics?

Here’s your big answer: It depends.

While, to be honest, we’d never recommend you buy inserts on your own at the pharmacy kiosk or the grocery store, it’s also true that not everyone will need fully customized orthotics. Decisions are made on a case-by-case basis.

Fortunately, we can help you with that.

Do I REALLY Need Custom Orthotics for My Foot Pain?

How Much Specificity Do You Need?

Really, it comes down to the needs of the individual.

Glasses are a useful comparison. If you are just a bit far-sighted—with no major differences in vision between your left and right eyes, no astigmatism, and a very average pupillary distance—you might do fine with a pair of reading glasses off the shelf. But chances are prescription readers are going to be better, and maybe even mandatory depending on your vision.

Or, think of buying a suit or dress. If you have a fairly standard body type, you might be able to shop directly off the rack. But it probably won’t look quite as good as a suit or dress that’s been tailored specifically for you, especially if you look a little different from “the norm.”

The same is true with orthotics. For mild and sometimes even moderate foot pain, a set of quality prefabricated orthotics might adequately alleviate your symptoms to an acceptable degree—especially if your foot type and shape is pretty close to average.

In fact, at our office we carry our own proprietary line of high-quality arch supports that we’ve personally vetted, and we frequently recommend them to our patients as a primary treatment option.

However, if your pain is more chronic and severe, or you have a more pronounced deformity or unusual foot shape, a set of custom orthotics is probably going to provide you with a noticeable improvement in performance.

Custom orthotics can also do some things that prefabricated orthotics just can’t. If you have a high degree of deformity or abnormality in your gait, for example, custom orthotics will likely do a much better job of providing the extra stability or motion control that you truly need to restore comfort and balance to your steps.

Not as Expensive as You Might Think

You’ve heard the phrase “you get what you pay for.” You might also be familiar with the idea that spending a little extra up front to get a higher quality or better product can actually save you money in the long run. A $25 pair of work boots doesn’t look like such a great deal if you have to replace them every single year, when a $100 pair can last you a decade.

 Often, not only will a pair of custom orthotics provide better performance for people who require it, but with good care they can often last several years. Prefabricated inserts, meanwhile, might last you 6-9 months—even good ones. (Cheap insoles from a pharmacy wall? You’d be lucky to get 3 months.)

Plus, if you truly do need the extra precision that custom orthotics provide, then you’re also going to save yourself a lot of pain, a lot of time, and potentially a lot of money just because your feet will feel better. You’ll be happier and more productive. You’ll probably be motivated to exercise more. Your risk of injuries and long-term chronic health concerns related to lack of activity due to foot pain will go down, which in turn lowers your predicted future health care costs. And so on and so forth.

To be honest, in many cases, custom orthotics are one of the absolute best investments you can make in yourself, and will pay themselves off many times over.

Smiling runners on mountain trail

Don’t Guess—Get the Answers You Need For Your Foot Pain

While not every situation calls for a fully custom solution, if there’s one thing we want to make sure you understand, it’s that you should never just pick something off the shelf yourself—even if a fancy “pressure scanner” at a kiosk told you what to buy.

Most of the time people do this, they end up with an inferior product that might not even be a particularly good fit for their feet, and just waste their money. At worst, the wrong arch supports could even make your problem worse.

Even if we ultimately decide prefabricated orthotics is all you really need, it still pays to get an expert opinion from a real foot and ankle expert who can properly evaluate your foot mechanics, make an accurate diagnosis, and help you select a high-quality insert that will actually make your life better.

Don’t leave your foot and ankle health to chance! If you’re dealing with pain or mobility issues, give Rainier Foot & Ankle Associates a call today, or request an appointment online