What You Should Look For When Buying Insoles
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
Orthotic insoles 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. Wiivv’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.