What is the Difference Between an Orthotic and an Insole?
Are shoe inserts, insoles, and orthotics all the same thing? Technically speaking, no. While insoles and orthotics do share many similar qualities and purposes, people choose one or the other for specific reasons. This article explains the differences between insoles and orthotics, so you can choose the best product to suit your needs and improve your overall foot health.
Understanding what orthotics are and how shoe insoles can benefit your feet opens a world of possibilities for solving and preventing foot pain. Read on to learn more about:
- The similarities and differences of an orthotic vs an insole.
- What is an orthotic and the three different types.
- What insoles are and their purpose.
- The benefits of wearing both.
- How to choose between them.
Are Orthotics and Insoles the Same Thing?
You can place shoe orthotics and insoles inside your shoes to help relieve certain types of foot pain and improve the cushioning or support that your shoe lacks. While you might use them both inside your shoes, they each have their own purpose and benefits, meaning insoles and orthotics are not the same.
Think of an insole as the mass-produced pain medication you buy over the counter. It relieves your minor aches and pains so you can get through a normal day. Meanwhile, an orthotic is more like a permanent cure to your condition than it is just a treatment of symptoms. Orthotics are usually custom-made, however there are some outliers.
The difference between orthotics and insoles comes down to the product itself, its design, and purpose. Does it have both cushioning and support? Are they designed for specific foot conditions like flat feet or high arches? Can an insole do anything for your arch or heel pain? Consider the type of pain you have when shopping for insoles or orthotics.
What is an Orthotic?
Traditionally, you could define an orthotic as a medical device that’s custom made to fit your individual feet and prescribed by a podiatrist, or foot doctor. Today, orthotics are more variable in design and come in both over the counter and custom-made options. Some podiatrists may prescribe a particular brand of orthotic insoles such as PowerStep® ProTech®.
Orthotics support, align, prevent, and correct deformities or functional impairments that are biomechanical. They help treat and relieve pain associated with conditions like overpronation, metatarsalgia, plantar fasciitis, shin splints, and Achilles tendonitis. They can also be used to improve balance or posture and provide support for weak or injured muscles and joints.
When discussing shoe orthotics, it is important to note the following features:
- Materials: Orthotics can be made of a combination of materials depending on the brand including plastic, metal, foam, or fabric.
- Sizing: With options available for kids and adults, orthotics come in a range of shoe sizes and do not require any trimming. You can wear them in pairs or, if needed, only for one foot.
- Purpose: Because they address specific issues with your feet, corrective orthotics serve as a form of treatment and prevention for foot pain. They provide support, cushioning, and shock absorption while distributing weight evenly across the foot to prevent pronation or supination.
- How Long Do Orthotics Last?: Orthotics are typically more durable than OTC insoles, lasting anywhere from one to five years. They are a more permanent form of lasting relief.
- Cost: The cost of orthotics depends on the brand you buy. Some insurance may cover orthotics for certain conditions, too. PowerStep offers affordable options to treat a range of foot problems.
Designed to correct how a person walks or stands, orthotics help with a variety of issues from knee, hip, and back pain to differences in leg lengths. PowerStep is the number one podiatrist recommended brand of orthotics for plantar fasciitis, a common foot ailment, while PowerStep orthotics for flat feet are a comprehensive solution for people suffering from flat foot pain.
Types of Orthotics
From full length orthotics for total contact support to ¾ length designs made to fit tighter shoes, it’s easy to find an orthotic that fits your shoes and your needs. There are options for kids and toddlers with flat feet as well as running orthotics for active lifestyles. Here are the three types of orthotics available on the market:
- Custom Made: A podiatrist may take a mold or scan of your foot to help create an orthotic made just for you.
- Heat-Moldable: Custom heat-moldable orthotic insoles give you personalized support using a material that molds to your foot shape from inside your shoe.
- Premade or OTC: You can find pre-manufactured orthotics in doctor’s offices, wellness shops and department stores that address specific foot ailments.
What is an Insole?
Generic insoles are the inside fabric of a shoe that lies under the sole of your foot. They might be sewn in, glued in, or removeable. Insoles that are separate from your shoe, sometimes called inserts, are designed to replace those standard insoles and bolster your shoe with more cushion and support.
The main difference between an insole and an orthotic is that insoles do not address specific foot disorders. Instead, insoles are mass-produced, usually require the user to trim them with scissors to fit their shoes and provide general cushioning pain relief.
Insoles are still helpful in relieving pain from conditions like plantar fasciitis or Morton’s Neuroma. Along with the extra padding, insoles help absorb shock and reduce foot fatigue from standing all day. Some manufacturers offer models designed specifically for certain types of shoes, such as high heels or work boots.
Some of the key features of insoles include:
- Materials: Designed for comfort, insoles are made of softer, more plush materials and sometimes feature supportive shells. Comfort materials include gel, memory foam, and breathable fabric.
- Sizing: While orthotics have an exact fit feel, insoles usually require some type of trimming to fit, or they come in pairs to fit particular shoe
- Purpose: Insoles fit inside your shoe as extra cushioning and support to reduce pain and foot fatigue from standing.
- How Long Do Insoles Last?: Certain insoles last longer than others, but it can also depend on how often you wear them. The average lifespan of a daily use insole is six months.
- Cost: Insoles are more affordable than most orthotics. You can find them online or inside drug stores, health stores, athletic stores, and more. You might consider shopping clearance deals.
PowerStep comfort insoles are a great introduction for people who are unsure what kind of orthotic or insole they need with options like bridge™ for standing all day and Pinnacle insoles for plantar fasciitis pain relief and prevention.
Types of Insoles
Like orthotics, insoles are also available in different lengths. If you’re looking for an insert to solve localized pain in your foot, you might consider a heel cup or ball of foot cushion instead of a full-length insole. The most common insole designs are:
- Soft Insoles: Comfort insoles made from gel or foam relieve pressure points causing soreness in the feet by adding soft cushion to your shoes.
- Semi-Rigid Insoles: Offering a balance of comfort and support, insoles with a semi-rigid support shell are reinforced to give the arch more structure and provide cushioning.
- Rigid Insoles: More rigid insoles are often worn in dress shoes that lack support, however having a breathable fabric top is important to keep your feet cool and wick away sweat.
Benefits of Wearing Insoles vs Orthotics
Both orthotics and insoles help relieve and prevent foot pain. Orthotics are a medical solution to discomfort, helping stabilize your foot and provide significant support. Meanwhile, insoles are a comfortable shoe insert that cushions your feet and keeps them from feeling tired or sore.
PowerStep orthotic insoles are designed to do the job of an orthotic and an insole, providing support for your feet plus targeted cushioning to relieve pressure and pain. Our clinically proven arch shape and shock absorbing cushioning offer enhanced comfort and support. Depending on your condition or the pain you experience, both insoles and orthotics are beneficial for your health.
Which One Should I Choose?
When choosing between orthotics and insoles, think about the shoes you wear the most, where your foot hurts, and why. If you only experience occasional pain from standing for long periods, a comfort insole may be enough. On the other hand, chronic or constant foot pain requires a visit to your podiatrist or primary care doctor, who may then prescribe an orthotic.
If you’re trying to choose which PowerStep orthotic insole is the best option for you, check out our Insole Finder for the perfect fit and discover relief from foot pain today.
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Lewis RD, Wright P, McCarthy LH. Orthotics Compared to Conventional Therapy and Other Non-Surgical Treatments for Plantar Fasciitis. J Okla State Med Assoc. 2015;108(12):596. Accessed November 25, 2022. /pmc/articles/PMC4742336/
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