WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN
FOOTBEDS, INSOLES, AND ORTHOTICS?
March 2022, Christophe Champs
From wonderful walks in Hyde Park, Regents park, the Thames path, Hampstead Heath Circular or simply when commuting to work through Oxford street, Piccadilly Circus, Covent garden, Mayfair, Soho... every step matters!
Although it is very smart to get some extra foot support, the range of "shoes inserts'' available on the market varies a lot in term of price, quality, and purposes.
From off-the shelves options to fully custom solutions, Podo London sets things straight for you to make the right decision and manage your expectations.
Available off-the-shelves or orderable online. Right and left footbeds are identical.
£1 to £50
Can be slightly modify with additional elements or sometimes moulded in store.
£50 to £200
Precede with a professional and individual assessment (Posture, Biomechanics, Gait,...)
£200 to £1,000
Footbeds are quite soft, made of gel or light foam to provide their customers with some additional cushioning but without any support. A pair of footbeds is symmetrical, meaning right and left inserts have the same shape, density, and effect on both feet. We don’t recommend using them to feel the shoes more snug or to fill the extra room if your shoes are too big for your feet.
Being very affordable, footbeds can even be ordered online as no assessment is needed. For this reason, we recommend you manage your expectations and bear in mind that for any foot discomfort or musculoskeletal disorder, support is key. The reason for this is that your shoes already are symmetrical, and your body is not, while every joint in every body plan is going to adapt for you to keep your eyes levelled, you won't address the imbalances unless your shoe insert are asymmetrical and provide each foot with two different treatment plans.
Comfort is more than cushioning though and support is key to offload overloaded areas, sustain, realign, or structure the entire foot to make it work better. Any soft padding under the ball of the foot will put even more load on an area which really needs to be offloaded and soft paddings will also make your feet and body unstable.
For hygiene reasons we recommend you change them regularly.
Insoles are partially customised to your feet. Specialised stores and often sports shops (running, cycling, skiing...) will offer you a footbed that can be slightly modified by adding up some Velcro elements, cutting a few bits out by hand or even sometimes being specially moulded. I have seen a few decent insoles in the past in terms of moulding, but their quality depends more on the person who will see you than on any technology or machines used. Remember that no algorithm will ever equal a professional eye, experience, and expertise. The behaviour of the human body is not scripted or predictable – therefore even at a clinic like PODO we offer check-ups to our existing patients.
Price wise, they should be less expensive than orthotics (although that’s not always the case). There is a gap in the market between medical orthotics and off-the-shelf "shoe inserts" but in my opinion, there’s no feasible market in that gap. This could explain why insoles are so often sold as specialised for one sport. Over the years I’ve found that our mindset tends to lead us towards a category or another and stay there. We either invest in medical orthotics or give a try to a first affordable option.
With little or no experience or faith in "shoe insert", I completely understand why patients could play safe and spend under £100 on a pair of insoles to see if there is any change in their quality of life. This is either a step before custom orthotics (and inherently better) results or it is a failure and a loss of this little faith in non-invasive treatment.
For this reason, I think podiatrists should be involved in insoles development. Bear in mind that the "shoe insert" is only one piece of the puzzle in the treatment plan – a podiatrist could provide you with bespoke, considered advice. I highly recommend you contact your local podiatrist anyway if you need guidance.
Depending on their usage, ski insoles used 2-3 weeks a year will last longer than running insoles used for a marathon training and race. The more support you get from your footwear and lacing method, the less pressure will be applied on the insoles and the longer they will last.
Coming with a treatment plan, following a gait and biomechanics assessment, orthotics are fully custom and asymmetrical in shape, density, and action.
At PODO we treat both feet like two different patients. This is because both legs do not grow simultaneously and injuries do not affect both legs at the same time, spot and with the same intensity causing the exact same damages. We also have a dominant leg/arm which constantly imbalances our pelvic/shoulder belt and therefore our entire body.
Orthotics can be made from a cast (a negative of your foot sent over to factory to be crafted or printed according to a Podiatrist report) or they can be made directly onto your feet by your consultant, moulded layer by layer.
This second option tends to be quite rare in the UK, this is however how we do it at PODO. It gives us more control on their making, the ability to work on them overtime if needed and it also gives our patients the luxury to walk away with their orthotics at the end of their appointment.
It’s fair to say that there isn’t a ‘best’ way as only the patient can tell, and all patients might not have the same answer. In any case, and before getting your first pair of orthotics, we recommend you get in touch to ask what services are included and if you can come back for check-ups.
If you see your orthotics as a painkiller, don’t wait for the pain to come back, have them checked by a Podiatrist after 18/24 months. When using the orthotics as a boost to your performance, at a pro level change them every 12 months while you are off-season. Pro cyclists can push on for up to 24 months due to absence of landing. Finally, when changing any technical footwear, and even more if they are job related, book yourself a check-up.
Want to find out more about PODO Orthotics?
Get in touch firstname.lastname@example.org
Go further with your orthotics
Orthotics are only one piece of the puzzle in helping your body work better.
Below you will find a wealth of information that has been helping patients around the world get the ‘big picture’.
The following resources (articles, videos and tutorials) do not just strive to give out the right advice, they also set the record straight on common misconceptions.