Are Shoe Inserts Actually Good For You?

As anyone who's stubbed their toe and limped around in pain can tell you, you may not think about your feet much when everything's fine, but foot problems have a way of making their presence impossible to ignore when they actually occur. Whether foot pain is due to plantar fasciitis, bunions, flat feet, or a completely unknown source, many people wonder if shoe inserts could help.

Shoe inserts come in two basic forms. Inserts, also known as insoles, are widely available and can be bought without a doctor's prescription. Their main purpose is to provide cushioning and support, to relieve pain and make wearing shoes more comfortable. They aren't designed to actually correct structural or biomechanical problems, though (via WebMD).

Orthotics, on the other hand, are medical devices that can only be obtained by prescription. They are custom-made, based off of a mold of the foot, and are designed to help and correct specific foot problems. They're also significantly more expensive than over-the-counter inserts.

Orthotics can help with specific conditions

But do either of these options actually work? For many people, the answer is a clear yes. On Amazon, a number of different types of OTC insoles have thousands of positive reviews from people who have found relief using them. And while no remedy — including orthotics — will work for everyone, orthotics do seem to be very effective in helping specific conditions, like diabetes, foot deformities, and poor circulation (via Harvard Health Publishingh).

Since there are a lot of variables that can impact both foot pain, and how well an insert might work, experts generally recommend starting with the simplest (and least expensive) solution first, and then trying a different one if it doesn't work. Getting a new pair of high-quality, well-fitting shoes may be enough to help the problem. If that doesn't work, try an OTC insert, and if the problem persists, get professional help. Joseph Dobrusin, D.P.M., a podiatrist in Arizona, says "People can debate all day about insoles versus custom orthotics, but if the off-the-shelf brand does the job — game over. For a mild to moderate issue, they do a nice job" (via Banner Health).