You’ve bought a pair of shoes and are walking or running them in gradually, you start to feel pinching or chafing where you previously felt none- is it time to consider an insole for some comfort?
Or perhaps you find yourself wincing when you bend because either your knees feel creaky or your lower back is painful? When people think insoles, they usually picture those flimsy EVA things you pop into your shoes for a bit of added ‘aaah…’
Insoles have become a force in their own right in the after-market footwear product category and are about more than just comfort and padding these days.
The purpose of an insole
Orthotics have many benefits - when we spend time on our feet, we put stress on our joints from the ankles up. If that stress is not properly absorbed, it can cause all sorts of problems ranging from knee pain to Plantar Fasciitis.
Now, a zillion years ago when we walked barefoot over harsh terrain or wore simple foot coverings to protect our feet from the elements, we didn’t have issues like we do today.
One of the biggest culprits in us facing so many biomechanical issues with our feet today rests with the terrain we navigate- hard, flat concrete and another is wearing shoes. Human feet are incredibly adaptable and we have out of necessity and now fashion too forced our feet into shoes of all kinds but wearing the wrong kind of shoe can wreak all kinds of havoc on your skeletal system
Insoles can help by mitigating these issues because they provide shock absorption and can help to better distribute the stress of your body weight along the length and breadth of your foot.
Insoles can also provide more support for the way your foot works; it can correct over-pronation and over-supination.
Wading into the fray of insole buying can be a daunting, confusing and worst yet, frustrating exercise; however if you’re going the custom route, the task is a lot simpler as a professional will take care the details for you- but first, let’s determine how you can decide if it is actually an insole that you need.
Supportive insoles come in 3 categories:
- Rigid Support: This type of insole is very technical and is used to control the movement of the foot below the ankle- this type is used to prevent the foot from turning in excessive pronation. These are generally from polyurethane plastic or ABS together with foam and microfiber for comfort. It can either be traditionally molded or 3D printed. Most often, custom insole makers/ podiatrists offer this category of insole to you.
- Soft Support: These tend to the shock absorbers of the insole world. They help with balance; they ease pressure on sore points of the foot and are lightweight. These could be foam-based or contain gel.
- Semi-rigid Support: This types is somewhere in the middle of rigid and soft and is often made up of a combination of supportive materials like plastic, leather, cork and foam. Mainly used by sports people.
Do you need insoles?
Our feet go through a ton of micro and macro movements each day, we put undue stress on them by standing for hours without a break in between, play high-impact sports or we wear poorly fitting shoes or they just generally go through the wear and tear that comes with age and use- sometimes an issue becomes so pronounced it becomes hard to ignore.
As with all our advice, it is merely a guideline to point you in the right direction, we always advise that you first check in with a medical professional to ascertain the best course of action for your issue
You could benefit from using a soft support insole if you have:
Bunions or experience bunion pain – Bunions are formed when the big toe pushes against the second toe. It has a pronounced bulging out on the inside of the foot where the ball is and bunions are caused by tight shoes, foot stress and arthritis.
- For mild bunion discomfort, a gel insole can offer some relief. Not everyone who suffers with bunions will need custom support insoles/orthotics
- For more severe bunion cases, you would have to consider a rigid or custom orthotic support that elevates your foot enough to take pressure off the squashed and the squashing
- Calluses under the foot – Gel insoles are best for this condition. For added relief, try putting the insoles in the fridge for a while before you use them.
- Hammertoes- A flat foot is cited as one of the causes of hammertoes, so an insole that supports the arch is a good idea, try to find an insole with a slightly pronounced bump just behind that ball of the foot, this bump applies pressure to the arch which forces the toes to straighten out a bit, thereby relieving the pressure on your toes.
- Diabetes-related foot pain or fatigue- The biggest issue when it comes to feet and Diabetes is hypersensitivity and Neuropathy (lack of feeling), this can lead to ulcers and sores on the feet which will take forever to heal- Diabetic foot care is a vital part of leading a healthy lifestyle with this condition- Soft cushiony insoles are the most obvious choice for diabetics- choose insoles that are specifically for Diabetics as they’ll be covered in Plastazote©, a soft material that conforms rapidly to the foot shape and prevents pressure sores and blister formation. This material is also the choice of podiatrists and custom insole makers for precisely these benefits.
- Shoes that need to fit a bit more snugly- if your shoes are somewhat big, insoles can help to fill up space so they fit more snugly. Better fitting shoes mean less chafing which means less risk of corns or blisters forming.
- Pain under your feet that comes from worn out soles- if this pain has nothing to do with any medical condition, try memory foam insoles to extend the wear on the inside of your shoes.
- One leg slightly shorter than the other and just need to even them out (Provided it’s not a severe height difference)-only 1 in 4 people actually have both legs exactly the same length, usually the difference is so minuscule that it rarely bothers you. One of the most common symptoms associated with this condition is backache. A podiatrist will be able to tell you just how big the difference is and if its really minor, a comfort support insole will do the trick.
You could benefit from using a rigid support insole/custom orthotic if you have:
- Over-pronation, when your foot rolls excessively inward when taking a step (the insole will help to keep the foot aligned and will allow the heel to stay supported in a neutral position- If you’re looking for an off-the-shelf option, make sure your insoles should have a deep heel cup to support your foot and a dense foam on top of it (slightly harder than chewing gum) to provide adequate shock absorption, they should also have some form of metatarsal support and be shaped at the arch. FitMyFoot’s 3D printed technology is a great alternative to traditional insoles and offers a great option on customization.
- Over-supination, which is the opposite to the condition described above. The foot rolls too far outward so your shoes wear away on the outer lip of the sole. A rigid insole will correct this issue by forcing your foot to roll more inward. As with insoles for over-pronation, a deep, supportive heel cup is key in stabilizing the foot. If you want to only concentrate on correcting the supination, a foot wedge like these (LINK HERE) are perfect if you don’t want to add unnecessary bulk to your shoes.
- Weight issues that put strain on your knees and ankles, a rigid insole will help to distribute the weight evenly over the base of your foot. Orthotics/ Insoles for weightier people need to be relatively firm to accommodate the pressure that is applied to the feet. They should also be wider that usual to accommodate the force applied during standing and walking. Collapsed arches, flat-footedness is common with excessive body weight and a custom insert/orthotic is necessary in this case.
- Pronounced differences in leg lengths, this type of insole addresses discrepancies in leg lengths by elevating the shorter leg without compromising the way it needs to function. Unlike the inserts we suggest for minor differences, pronounced differences will require that you see a podiatrist or pedorthist to create a custom orthotic for you.
- Plantar Fasciitis- this intense pain comes from the large flat muscle that stretches from your heel to your toes call the plantar. Undue stress, over stretching it when wearing heels for example or being on your feet all day contribute to the over-stretching of this muscle. Generally, if the muscle is too inflamed, it is best to stay off your feet to allow it time to heal, that’s not to say that there aren’t insole options that help- PF insoles are usually customized and they will assist in reducing the pressure your body weight places on the plantar by providing shock absorption. They also tend not to be full-length insoles and need to be positioned correctly for them to be effective.
You could benefit from using a semi-rigid support insole if you:
- Play high-impact sports such as squash- Squash can be brutal on your feet and knees, and constant lunging, running side to side and jumping are bound to take their toll on your feet. Shock absorption is a key factor to look out for when buying insoles specific to this sport.
- Are a long time runner- as with all high-impact sports, your ankle and knee joints will be the first to take strain if your feet don’t cushion and absorb shock well- Runners need to pay special attention to finding proper arch support in addition to shock absorption properties.
- Wear workboots/hiker boots all day long- apart from finding great ankle supporting boots, this type of footwear too, requires arch support as they tend to be inflexible and somewhat hard on the inside. Look for memory foam or gel insoles with arch support and remember to tighten your boots well
- Have Morton’s Neuroma: this uncomfortably painful condition occurs when the nerve that rests between the third and fourth toes flares up and becomes inflamed and enlarged. This is primarily from wearing pointed shoes, super high shoes that force your foot to place undue stress on the forefoot (ball) or shoes that are unnecessarily tight, particularly in the toe-box area. Shoes that have a heel and a higher than normal lift in the front (called a toe-spring) will place more stress on these nerves and lead to the formation of a neuroma. Metatarsal pads work wonders here by spreading the metatarsal bones and taking pressure off the nerve- the placement of this pad is really vital, so it is recommended that you visit a foot care provider to guide you. If you’re going for a store-bought insole, be sure to look for insoles specific to this condition and most often, they will not be full length.
How to measure yourself for online insole buying
Most reputable online retailers provide in-depth measurements and measuring tools for consumers who shop online- but, a savvy way of ensuring your shoes fit to the tee, would be to not only focus on the actual size you think you wear but to actually fit to the measurement of the sole of your foot.
No matter how sure you are of your shoe size, it is still pretty important to know what your insole size is, specifically when buying sandals or shoes from a brand unknown to you as well as to achieve an optimum fit in the future. These measurements are a also a key factor when shopping for off-the-shelf orthopedic insoles. Follow our guide to find the right insole fit for your feet.
Your numerical shoe size, whether it be in a US, UK or French size is based on the length of your foot, it is measured from the heel to the tip of the longest toe. This measurement doesn’t factor in width - to determine the width of your shoe fit, read our article here for advice.
Here’s how you measure your insole:
- Take your favorite, best fitting pair of shoes
- Using a flexible tape measure or a ribbon that you can mark on
- Push the end that is marked with the 0 right into the tip of the toe on the inside of your shoe
- Laying the tape flat, walk it all the way to the inside of the heel, laying it flat against the bottom of the shoe
- This measurement is your true insole length
- Measure in cm- if the size ends up between half sizes, round up to the nearest ½ size, eg. 18.25cm will be rounded up to 18.5cm
If you’re buying half insoles, the heel to ball ratio is the measurement you’ll be looking for. This measurement is also pretty important when looking for high performance sports-specific insoles.
How to measure your heel to ball ratio: ( You’ll need a partner to help you with this one)
- Stand on a flat surface on a clean piece of paper with your heel touching and not overlapping the edge of the page. Mark the heel out holding the pen perpendicular to the foot- now extend the line, using a ruler from the curved end of the heel to the outside of the foot
- Get the person helping you to mark the spot where the ball of your foot touches the paper-
- if you have normal arches- this will be quite obvious to spot as it will be the part that touches the paper in front of the gap that your arch will make.
- If you have fallen arches, this ball position should be identified from the top of the foot but finding the ball position with your fingers, then touching the paper in exactly the same position and marking that off.
- Using a measuring tape, the person measuring you will measure the length from the ball position to where you extended the heel line.
- This measurement is your heel to ball ratio- repeat on the other foot.
Custom vs. Off-The-Shelf
Most foot pain is the result of a disconnect in the relationship your feet have with the ground and a miscommunication between the bones and muscles of the foot. As such, sometimes the disconnect is too large a problem to be solved by self-identifying it
Whether you’re looking for an off-the-shelf option or a custom option, quality is key to ensure the efficacy and the longevity of your insoles.
When looking for an insole:
- Understand the purposes of the various foams used- sometimes a firmer foam can do more harm than good and vice versa
- Choose an insole that is specific to your needs- trying to use an arch support when you actually need metatarsal comfort can be counter-productive.
- Make sure you know your size- don’t guess; use our how-to guide above to get accurate measurements.
- Buy an insole from a quality, well-known brand- cheap insoles are a waste of money and actually do more harm than good.
- Buy insoles for battered, broken shoes- insoles can only provide additional comfort and cushioning, two things that your battered shoe already doesn’t have- so you will be throwing money away trying to revive a shoe that is too far gone.
- Guess your insole size, trimming off-the-shelf insoles is a bother and you can avoid it by buying the right size the first time
- Buy extra soft floppy insoles, they get worn down quickly and in no time, you’ll find yourself needing another pair.
- Buy arch supports in a smaller size than you need- this can be painful!
- Get the positioning of the metatarsal padding wrong- simplest way to figure out the positioning of the padding is to use an existing shoe-liner, remove it from your shoe, look for the telltale dip where the ball of your foot was worn away the liner, place the liner and step on it to feel if you’ve got the right spot. If your shoe is new, put a dab of eye shadow or eyeliner under the ball of your foot, take the new liners out of your shoe, step on it firmly and where the make-up leaves a mark is your ball position.
This insole is popular amongst sports people as it provides intense support that is great for heavy-duty wear. Whether you’re running a marathon or deadlifting your on weight, the deep heel cups keep your ankle stable.
Best feature: Pronounced arch support with complimentary lateral support wall lifts your arch and prevents your foot from falling off the outer edge.
Best for: pronation issues and pain under the soles due to hard shoes.
A great solution for improved arch support and injury reduction. FitMyFoot uses the latest technology to map your foot and it automatically records any anomalies and takes it into account, so when a few days later, your freshly printed insoles arrive, they make you stand taller, walk better and move more smoothly.
Best feature: as custom as custom can get- these truly are your own unique pair of insoles.
Best for: over-pronation, biomechanical stress pain, ankle pain and plantar fasciitis discomfort, flat feet, high arches
This brand is designed to stabilize the foot and prevent unwanted over-pronation. It provides effective relief from the pains associated with over pronation. This is a good broad-based use insole
Best feature: Preventing rolling in of the foot through a deep foot cradle that stabilizes the foot and ankle.
Best for: Plantar Fasciitis, Arch pain and heel pain
Insoles with adjustable arch heights- these insoles give you the option of choosing your ideal lift and is perfect for wide fitting shoes and feet.
Best feature: the feel of a custom arch supportive insole at an over-the-counter price
Best for: bunions, hammertoes and back pain.
Plastozote© covered insoles that get more comfortable as they mold to the shape of your foot. These insoles help to redistribute weight evenly over your foot and takes the pressure off sensitive areas. These insoles designed by doctors are perfect for diabetics.
Best feature: the metatarsal support that offers extra forefoot support that relieves the pain in the ball of the foot.
Best for: Diabetics, Morton’s Neuroma, Plantar Fasciitis and metatarsalgia.
Available in three different profile heights, these superbly technical outsoles are purely created to boost your running performance. Created with a multitude of performance materials such as Poron® foam which is a dense memory foam that also performs as a shock absorber.
Best feature: triple layered moisture wicking system that allows your foot to stay odor-free.
Best for: runners of all variants.
How to care for your insoles
Wearing your insoles each day can leave them looking a bit grubby and smelling funky, they absorb all your sweat, perfume and dirt.
Usually, a wipe with a damp cloth is good enough for cleaning lightly soiled insoles. Many foam insoles should not be submerged in water, as they tend to fall apart thereafter. Hard plastic, cork and leather insoles can be cleaned a little more vigorously with a solution of baking soda and vinegar to remove any odors.
Air out completely; until it’s dry all the way through each layer before re-inserting into your shoes.
Never dry near direct heat and do not machine wash insoles.
If your inserts squeak when you wear them, try sprinkling some baby powder between insole and shoe to reduce friction and squeaking.