Finding the perfect fit when shoe shopping can be a near-impossible task. Most shoes are made with little built-in support, which can take a toll on your feet, ankles, and even your back. Adding insoles to your shoes can help to make them more comfortable and give you the support that you need as you go about your day. Here, we’re going to go over the different types of insoles and how they can help you to find relief from foot-related pain.
What is an Insole?
An insole is a contoured insert that you can add to your shoe to improve the fit. You can also use certain insoles to help insulate your feet in cold weather, or as a way to promote airflow and keep your shoe deodorized.
Insoles, also known as footbeds or inner soles, are most often removable so that you can slip them in and out of different shoes with ease. The can cover part or all of the bottom of your shoe to give you better support and stability.
While some people use insoles daily, others only wear inserts to improve athletic performance. Improving the fit of your shoe can help to give you better comfort and more power during activities such as running, cycling, and playing sports.
Insert vs. Insole vs. Orthotics
You may have heard insoles referred to as inserts or orthotics. While these terms are often used interchangeably, they all have a slightly different meaning.
Inserts and insoles are often available over-the-counter and can be found in just about any pharmacy. You don’t need a prescription from a doctor to buy these, but you may want to seek out the advice of a specialist before trying to self-correct any foot pain issues.
Shoe inserts target a specific area of the foot instead of covering the entire sole. They allow you to focus on problem areas without accidentally affecting other parts of the foot.
Heel cups are designed to help with heel pain by offering cushioning and shock absorption. Heel lifts, on the other hand, help with calf and ankle pain by raising the heel and taking the pressure off of these areas.
Metatarsal pads are placed towards the front of the shoe, just behind the ball of the foot. They can be particularly useful for people who are seeking relief from the pain associated with Morton’s neuroma. Women in heels may also benefit from these pads. They can help to take some of the pressure off the ball of the foot.
Insoles, unlike inserts, tend to cover the full length of the shoe. Instead of targeting a particular area, they offer to cushion to the entire foot and help to support the arch. Insoles can be stiff or flexible, depending on whether you’re looking for more support or more comfort. Many are one-size-fits-all, but some insole varieties offer precision sizing.
Orthotics, unlike inserts and insoles, are custom-made to fit a particular foot. They have to be prescribed by a doctor and constructed using a one-off mold.
Custom orthotics help not only to alleviate pain but also to correct problems with your feet or your gait. They’re often rigid or semi-rigid to offer the maximum level of support to the arch and the heel while limiting ankle movement.
Functional orthotics are the most common type of prescription insole. These orthotics are designed to help eliminate abnormal motion. They can also help to treat chronic foot pain or heal injuries properly.
Accommodative orthotics, on the other hand, are designed to offer cushion as well as support. They’re ideal for those suffering from inflammation, foot ulcers, or painful calluses.
Over-the-counter insoles are often fine for treating minor discomfort issues, and they’re less expensive than custom orthotics. For chronic or complex foot issues, however, you may want to see a specialist for a custom insert. Though orthotics cost more, they offer the best possible support for your feet and work to fix persisting problems.
What to Look for in an Insole
When looking for the best insole for your feet, there are a couple of things that you should keep in mind. By shopping smart, you can find the best fit for your foot at a price you can afford.
Many insoles come in a single size, or in limited sizing options. Often, you’re expected to cut the insole to fit the size and shape of your shoe. This type of insole is usually foam and intended for padding rather than support.
More advanced insole designs often come in a range of sizes. You can find the right one for you based on your shoe size. You may still have to trim the insole for a perfect fit, however. If necessary, always opt for the bigger size, as you can always make your inserts smaller.
Most shoes come with a removable insole that offers limited cushioning. If you buy a full-length insole for your shoe, you’ll most likely have to remove this insert before using the new one.
Three-quarter length insoles, along with partial inserts such as heel cups and lifts, are designed to be worn alongside your shoe’s insert. They’re often thinner than full insoles to prevent your footwear from feeling overcrowded. Some are designed to go on top of the insert, while others should be placed underneath.
If you use an insert that’s not designed for your particular arch type, you may end up causing more harm than good. You need an insole that will be able to offer your arch the maximum level of support to help prevent foot fatigue.
You can have one of three different types of arches. Most people have neutral or medium arches, which require the least amount of outside support for comfort.
Some people, however, have low arches, fallen arches, or flat feet. They need rigid or semi-rigid support around the middle of the foot to keep the pressure off of their arch area.
Those with high arches may want to look for specialty insoles that offer a lifted midsection. The insert should conform to the arch of the feet, in this case, to reduce pressure on the balls and heel of the feet by distributing pressure more evenly.
The footbed construction is one of the most important factors to consider when looking at insoles. It determines how much support or cushioning you’ll get as you move.
Typically, the most supportive insoles have rigid or semi-rigid footbeds. They don’t have any give as you move, ensuring that your foot stays in the proper orientation. However, they don’t do much to prevent foot fatigue.
Cushioned footbeds are better for those who are looking for pain relief or shock absorption. You can find various levels of cushioning depending on your unique needs, from rigid footbeds with built-in padding to footbeds with a flexible construction.
Insoles are made of a variety of materials, each with their own benefits and drawbacks. Foam is one of the most common materials, offering plenty of cushioning and pressure relief, but not much in the way of support. Wool also provides plenty of cushioning with the added benefit of temperature regulation.
Gel insoles also help to enhance comfort, and typically offer more support than either foam or wool. However, they’re often more expensive and can weigh down your shoes.
Cork is another common insole material. It offers more support than either gel or foam while still cushioning the foot. However, cork is thick, and it wears down quickly.
Leather lasts longer than most other insole materials, and leather inserts are often thin enough to fit most shoe types. It offers both cushioning and support, and many people enjoy the feel of it. However, leather is not good at wicking away sweat, and may not be the best choice for strenuous activity or warm weather.
Different insoles are designed with different feet in mind. You should look for one that matches the size and width of your foot as well as your arch height. However, the shape of your feet isn’t the only consideration when looking at insole design.
You should also take into account pronation, or how you walk. Very few of us have a naturally perfect gait, and our shoes should reflect this. Overpronation means that when you walk, the arches of your feet roll inward. Supination, on the other hand, is when your ankles roll outwards with each step.
If you overpronate, you should look for an insole designed to address that issue. It should have a ridged or lifted inside edge to help direct your feet to move straight. Similarly, if you supinate, you should look for ridges along the outer edge of your insoles.
Not all insoles are designed for daily wear. Some are specialized to help improve athletic performance. They have a carefully engineered design that offers greater balance and stability along with protective padding.
Different sports require different types of insoles for optimal performance. Runners need plenty of padding in the heel and forefoot to help absorb shock when their foot hits the ground. Cyclists, on the other hand, need a stiff insole that will help to support their feet on the pedals.
For winter sports, it’s best to look for an insole that offers both support and insulation. Skiers, in particular, can benefit from a rigid insole that helps to keep them upright on their skis.
Compact insoles are often best for sports that require the use of specialized footwear, such as hockey, skating, or soccer. The insole should be able to fit comfortably underneath your feet without causing too much compression. You should look for a thin yet contoured design.
In cold weather, insoles can do more than just support your frame. Some insoles are designed to insulate your feet, allowing you to regulate your temperature.
Wool is one of the best materials for insulating insoles. Not only does it keep you warm during the winter, but also cool in the summer. It’s able to do this thanks to its wicking properties. Wool is excellent at absorbing moisture from the air, allowing it to hold in heat when it’s cold out while trapping cool air on warm days.
Wool inserts make a good addition to heavy-duty shoes without much insulation. Adding them to your hiking boots can help you to regulate your feet’s temperature in all weather conditions.
If you’re looking exclusively for an insole to keep your feet feeling warm and toasty, you can find battery-powered insoles. They’re designed to heat your feet, even in the bitter cold. Some can even be operated wirelessly, allowing you to turn them on and off at will.
No matter what kind of insole you use, with daily use, it’s bound to conform to the shape of your foot eventually. With heat-moldable insoles, however, you can fit them to your feet in one easy step.
Typically, you heat the insoles for a short period in the oven, allowing the material to become soft and flexible. Then, once it’s cool enough to touch, you can stand on the insoles to imprint your unique foot shape on them.
Moldable inserts are the closest over-the-counter solution that you can find to custom orthotics. However, they’re not designed to correct imperfections. You copy the exact contours of your foot, including problem areas.
Moldable insoles are best used to enhance comfort and support in your shoes. If you’re looking to fix problems such as a collapsed arch, heel spurs, poor pronation, and more, it’s best to seek the help of a professional.
Cushioned insoles are designed for both comfort and shock absorption. They’re often flexible instead of rigid or semi-rigid. They offer temporary pain relief, but often, heavily cushioned insoles offer little-to-no arch support.
Insoles with cushioning are ideal for joggers and runners who are looking for relief from foot fatigue. This type of insole is also popular amongst people with shin splints or who experience discomfort from standing all day.
Cushioned insoles are typically made with foam or gel. Although gel insoles tend to be heavier than other alternatives, they’re often the best at protecting your feet against high-impact movements.
In recent years, memory foam insoles have become more popular amongst people looking to enhance shoe comfort. Memory foam is soft, supple, and conforms easily to the shape of your foot. Memory foam insoles are also typically thin enough to fit in most shoe styles. However, this material offers even less support than gel insoles.
When you work a physically demanding job, you can end up wearing down insoles and orthotics quickly. It’s best to opt for heavy-duty insoles that are made of a durable material and designed specifically to withstand frequent use. Many can also hold up to carry heavy loads.
Heavy-duty insoles should also provide the support that you need if you’re on your feet all day. Their design often includes padding to help reduce pressure and foot fatigue throughout the day. Many also feature semi-rigid support around the arches for extended standing or walking.
Heavy-duty insoles are ideal for those in industries such as construction and manufacturing. They can also come in handy if you frequently do heavy labor around the house, such as renovating or landscaping.
High Heel Insoles
High heels, while fashionable, aren’t known for being comfortable. They place the feet at an unnatural angle, putting pressure on the ball and toes. Wearing heels every day can also eventually lead to ankle and back pain.
It can be a challenge to find an insole that’s discreet enough to fit in a heel and yet substantial enough to offer support. Often women opt for metatarsal pads, but many also use full insoles.
It’s best to look for something with a low profile and made of cushioning material. Gel or foam are both ideal for high heel insoles, as they help to absorb shock and pressure on the ball of the foot both when standing and walking.
Children’s feet are still growing and developing, which can make finding the right insert for their shoes a challenge. You may have to swap out inserts fairly frequently as they increase in shoe size. An insole that’s too small can end up causing long-term damage to a developing foot.
There are many insoles that are specifically designed for a child’s body. You can find a range of sizes and styles, with many boasting designs and colors that kids will love.
Kids’ insoles should work to complement food growth, driving it in a healthy direction. You should look for a carefully engineered model that gently positions, rearranges, and aligns the foot as it grows.
If you’re experiencing foot pain, adding an insole to your shoe may be the solution to your problem. Insoles give you more cushioning and support as you walk, helping to prevent discomfort in the foot, ankle, and back. There are several different types of insoles to choose from, from over-the-counter inserts to custom-made orthotics.