What’s the Difference Between Insoles and Orthotics?

Insoles and orthotics. They’re the same thing, right? Not exactly. Most people use these terms interchangeably, but in reality, insoles and orthotics are different in many ways. They do have one big thing in common: They help eliminate foot pain and discomfort.

If you’re confused about the difference between orthotics and insoles, you’re not alone. I’m going to clear things up so that you know exactly what each one does and how they may benefit your feet.

What are Insoles?

Insoles are sometimes called shoe inserts. They come in two different sizes: full-size and 3/4 length. You can buy insoles over the counter at most pharmacies and health stores. They’re designed to replace the standard insoles that came with your shoes or high heels.

Most insoles are made of gel, foam and other materials (usually soft plastic and rubber) which all work together to provide foot support. These additional materials are usually used to address specific needs, like if you have flat feet or need extra support as an athlete.

Insoles are mass-produced, and they do have a relatively short lifespan (about six months). The materials they’re made of allow for extra cushioning and support to reduce foot pain from standing for long hours.

Most people can benefit from insoles, particularly if they spend a lot of time on their feet or wear high heels. There are many types and materials to choose from, and you’re sure to find one that will fit your feet.

Because insoles are mass-produced, they don’t offer a custom fit for your feet. They’re sold in size ranges, and the user has to trim down the insoles to make it fit the foot properly. Trimming can be a little tricky, depending on the insole and the material used. But a good pair of sharp scissors should get the job done.

Insoles are sold in pairs, and they’re relatively easy to keep clean  using warm water and mild dish detergent. Most pairs will come with thorough care instructions.

While they do offer pain relief, insoles don’t address specific foot needs or disorders. If you’re suffering from a medical condition or have a specific foot problem that needs to be fixed, orthotics are the better solution.

Although insoles only last about six months, they’re easy and inexpensive to replace. They provide general pain relief and support, so they’re worth the cost of replacing.

When Should You Use Insoles?

Insoles can provide much-needed relief and comfort if you’re suffering from minor foot pain or you need arch support. And because they’re sold over-the-counter (i.e. you don’t need a prescription), they’re really convenient and easy to find.

Insoles may be a good option for you if you’re on your feet all day at work. Many brands have acupuncture points that will actually massage your feet and improve blood circulation.

They’re an inexpensive solution to minor foot pain.

What are Orthotics?

Orthotics are similar to insoles. They also provide pain and pressure relief while giving your feet some comfort. But the main difference between insoles and orthotics is that orthotics are custom-made for your feet.

Like insoles, orthotics come in two lengths: 3/4 and full-size.

Because they’re custom-made to fit your feet, they’re able to address specific foot issues. You also don’t have to worry about trimming orthotics to fit your feet and shoes. If you desire, you can have just one orthotic made instead of a pair.

Like insoles, orthotics provide cushioning and arch support. But orthotics take that cushioning and support to a new level because they’re custom-made for your feet. They absorb shock, but they also help correct the way you stand or walk, like if you have issues with oversupination or overpronation. Insoles can help correct these problems, but not as effectively as a custom orthotic.

Orthotics can correct alignment issues. One of the main reasons why we have alignment issues is because we put too much pressure and weight on certain parts of the body. Orthotics work by spreading the weight evenly to the rest of the body.

Changing your gait and posture can help eliminate some foot problems and more severe pain.

Orthotics do last much longer than insoles – about five years compared to just six months. The main drawback is that orthotics are expensive. They can range from $400-$600, but their effects make them worth the cost.

When Should You Use Orthotics?

If you have severe foot pain or a specific foot problem that needs to be corrected, orthotics may be the only real solution. You may also want to try orthotics if insoles aren’t giving you the relief you want.

Orthotics are ideal for people suffering from:

They’re also great for athletes because the material used to create custom orthotics offers shock absorption, arch support and cushioning all in one package.

Both Offer Quick Noticeable Results

Both insoles and orthotics offer quick and noticeable results. How quick? Most people start seeing and feeling results after just a few weeks.

Is one better than the other? Not necessarily. It really depends on your personal needs. Do you have foot pain because you stand on your feet all day, or are you dealing with a specific foot condition, like overpronation?

If you have a specific foot condition or you have more severe pain, custom orthotics may be the best solution to your needs. You would also benefit from seeing a podiatrist.

If you just need something to make your feet more comfortable and help prevent fatigue from standing all day, insoles are a great, effective option. You won’t need to visit a specialist either. Just head to your local pharmacy or grocery store (yes, most grocery stores sell insoles in their healthcare departments) to buy a pair.

Insoles and orthotics both have a place on the market. If you find that insoles aren’t giving you the relief that you need and your pain is becoming debilitating, it’s time to see a podiatrist and have custom orthotics created to address your specific needs.