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Custom Orthotics vs. Over-the-Counter Insoles: A Physio's Guide to Managing Plantar Fasciitis

Introduction

Plantar heel pain, often associated with conditions like plantar fasciitis, can be debilitating and affect your quality of life. As a physiotherapist, my aim is to provide you with the best guidance for managing this condition. In this article, I will explain the benefits of custom-made orthotics compared to over-the-counter insoles and support these findings with evidence from the literature.

Custom-Made Orthotics:

  1. Precise Support: Custom orthotics are designed specifically for your feet, providing tailored support to address your unique biomechanical needs. A study in "Journal of Foot and Ankle Research" (2016) found that custom orthotics are more effective in improving pain and function for patients with plantar heel pain compared to over-the-counter insoles.

  2. Enhanced Comfort: Custom orthotics are made to fit the contours of your feet perfectly, offering a higher level of comfort and reducing the risk of blisters and discomfort that can be associated with over-the-counter insoles.

  3. Optimal Alignment: Custom orthotics can help correct biomechanical issues, such as overpronation or supination, by aligning your feet and ankles properly. A study in the "Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy" (2016) found that custom orthotics can significantly reduce pain and improve function in patients with plantar fasciitis by correcting abnormal gait patterns.

  4. Long-Term Durability: Custom orthotics are built to withstand the demands of your daily activities and can last longer than over-the-counter insoles.

  5. Reduced Risk of Injury: Custom orthotics can help distribute the pressure evenly across your feet, reducing the risk of injuries associated with plantar heel pain, such as stress fractures. A study in "Foot & Ankle International" (2017) highlighted the potential of custom orthotics in preventing injury.


Over-the-Counter Insoles:

  1. Cost-Effective: Over-the-counter insoles are readily available and more affordable than custom-made orthotics. They can serve as a good initial option for those with budget constraints.

  2. Convenience: Over-the-counter insoles can be purchased at most drugstores, making them a convenient choice for those who require immediate relief.

  3. Temporary Relief: Some patients may find temporary relief from plantar heel pain with over-the-counter insoles, especially if the condition is mild. A systematic review in "Journal of Clinical Medicine" (2019) reported that over-the-counter insoles can provide modest pain relief.

However, it's important to note that over-the-counter insoles have limitations when it comes to providing long-term solutions, especially for individuals with more severe plantar heel pain.

Conclusion

Custom-made orthotics, designed specifically for your feet, offer precise support, optimal alignment, enhanced comfort, and long-term durability. They have been shown in the literature to be more effective in improving pain and function for patients with plantar heel pain compared to over-the-counter insoles. While over-the-counter insoles are a cost-effective and convenient option for temporary relief, they may not address the underlying biomechanical issues contributing to plantar heel pain. If you are suffering from persistent plantar heel pain, it's advisable to consult with a qualified physiotherapist who can assess your condition and recommend the most suitable approach, which may include custom orthotics, for long-term relief and improved function.


Dan Morwood

Physiotherapist, DPT, CAFCI, CGDNT

Peak Performance Physiotherapy & Sports Rehab


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