Custom Orthotics vs Over-the-Counter Orthotics

October 26, 2021

The human feet are one of the most complex and amazing parts of the human body. Our walking pattern, how we step, and even how we stand can have an impact on the strain that the rest of our body is subjected to. Discomfort and pain in the foot isn’t a fun experience and has the potential of causing complications. If you are experiencing any foot problem, your best option would be to consult with your physical therapist or physician. With their guidance, you can determine whether or not you should use orthotics. However, it is worth mentioning that all orthotics are not created equally. Frankly, the make and quality of your orthotics can make a very big difference. In some cases, there might be the temptation to switch to over-the-counter orthotics. But then, custom orthotics remains the best choice. Why? Continue reading to find out.

What is an orthotic?

An orthotic is an insert fitted into a shoe. It is designed to realign your foot, decrease the abnormal motion of the foot, reduce or eliminate pain in the foot, and restore balance. Orthotics come in two ways: an over-the-counter orthotic, or a customized orthotic. Customization of an orthotic is usually done by a podiatrist or an orthopaedist to fit your foot.

Over-the-counter orthotics – The Quick Fix

If you are in good health (free from any underlying health condition), there is nothing wrong with using OTC orthotics. Some studies have shown that OTC insoles can work as well as the custom version for some foot conditions. For instance, a 2014 study published in the journal Musculoskeletal Care found that plantar heel patients who wore OTC insoles for eight weeks had a similar level of reductions in disability and pain as those who wore custom orthotics. What’s more, this came at a lower cost.

Agreed, OCT orthotics are cheaper than custom insoles, in some cases going as low as 1/10th the cost of custom orthotics. But in most cases, they are trade-offs in terms of firmness, support, comfort, and durability.

There are three categories of OTC orthotics:

  • Foam orthotics: foam insoles are usually comfortable when they are first inserted in shoes. However, they do not offer much support to the arch due to poor firmness. Also, foam inserts degrade faster and their wearable life does not exceed two weeks.
  • Gel orthotics: Gel insoles offer greater support than foam insoles. However, because they are not firm, they are not recommended for long-term ailments.
  • Rigid inserts: Rigid inserts are molded plastic. They are hard and usually placed under the arch or heel. Rigid inserts provide support for the areas in which they are placed. They are also the least expensive of all OTC orthotics. But then, its high level of rigidity is discomforting to many users.


Custom medical orthotics – effective and reliable

If you have a complex knee, foot, back, or hip problem, then your best bet is to see your healthcare provider (an orthotist, a certified pedorthist, or a podiatrist). Custom orthotics will require digital foot mapping and a physical examination. Given its uniqueness, custom orthotics are biomechanically correct and address how you experience arch or heel pain, lower back conditions, and pain in the knee. They are also helpful for specific bio-mechanic conditions.

Another benefit of custom orthotics is that they are specially crafted to treat ailments specific to individual feet. They have a long wearable life (no less than 3 years and up to 5 years). However, it is important to note that their long wearable life is due to a high level of rigidity.

It might also interest you to note that our custom medical orthotics are produced in the United States using the latest medical technology. That’s a plus in itself. On the other hand, over-the-counter orthotics are made from cheap, knock-off materials sourced from China.


Which should you go for?

Custom orthotics are designed to adjust your feet into a healthy and more helpful posture/position, and this will improve your overall physical health. Orthotics can help correct or ease plantar fasciitis, shin splints, and other related conditions. What’s more, they may serve as a permanent solution if there is no extreme weight loss or growth. Over-the-counter orthotics are just a temporary solution to a long-lasting problem.


Article sources

Ring, K., & Otter, S. (2014). Clinical efficacy and cost-effectiveness of bespoke and prefabricated foot orthoses for plantar heel pain: a prospective cohort study. Musculoskeletal care12(1), 1–10.

Rasenberg, N., Fuit, L., Poppe, E., Kruijsen-Terpstra, A. J., Gorter, K. J., Rathleff, M. S., van Veldhoven, P. L., Bindels, P. J., Bierma-Zeinstra, S. M., & van Middelkoop, M. (2016). The STAP-study: The (cost) effectiveness of custom-made orthotic insoles in the treatment for plantar fasciopathy in general practice and sports medicine: design of a randomized controlled trial. BMC musculoskeletal disorders17, 31.

Redmond, A. C., Crosbie, J., & Ouvrier, R. A. (2006). Development and validation of a novel rating system for scoring standing foot posture: the Foot Posture Index. Clinical biomechanics (Bristol, Avon)21(1), 89–98.

Thomas, J. L., Christensen, J. C., Kravitz, S. R., Mendicino, R. W., Schuberth, J. M., Vanore, J. V., Weil, L. S., Sr, Zlotoff, H. J., Bouché, R., Baker, J., & American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons heel pain committee (2010). The diagnosis and treatment of heel pain: a clinical practice guideline-revision 2010. The Journal of foot and ankle surgery: official publication of the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons49(3 Suppl), S1–S19.

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