Shoe Inserts and Custom Orthotics

Custom Orthotics

Shoe inserts—whether purchased over the counter at the pharmacy or custom-built from a mold or scan of your feet—are often an effective tool for many painful foot and ankle conditions. Inserts can cushion your steps, support your arches, deflect pressure away from trouble spots—even improve the biomechanics of your walking gait.

Whether you suffer from flat arches, heel pain, diabetic wounds, or even pain in your knees, hips, or back, the right insert could make a world of difference in your life. By restoring proper alignment to your feet, pain and pressure is lessened throughout the body, including knees, hips, and back.

But how do you know what to choose? Read on to learn more.

Prefabricated Shoe Inserts / Insoles

Non-prescription, prefabricated shoe inserts may be purchased over the counter at pharmacies, sporting goods stores, supermarkets, etc. Although they may not be as effective as custom orthotics and may not be adequate to treat certain conditions, they can provide at least partial relief for many kinds of foot pain.

Regardless of what the advertising or marketing might say about a device being “custom made,” if a doctor didn’t prescribe it for you, it isn’t a custom orthotic.

Common types include:

  • Arch supports, which generally have a “bumped up” appearance. True to their name, they help support your arch.
  • Insoles, which mainly provide cushioning for the entire foot. They are often made from gel, foam, or plastic.
  • Heel liners, also known as heel cups, provide extra cushioning or elevation specifically for the heels.
  • Foot cushions, which are meant to be simple barriers between you and your shoe that reduce painful rubbing and friction.

Not all insoles are created equal, of course—and more expensive doesn’t necessarily mean better. Our office recommends the Superfeet insoles for those who are choosing a prefabricated insert.

Custom Orthotics

Unlike prefabricated inserts, custom orthotics are specially made to support and comfort your feet. They are crafted for you—and no one else. We’ll conduct a complete evaluation of your feet and ankles and get precise measurements of your feet so that the custom orthotic matches your unique foot structure and pathology.

Custom orthotics come in two main categories:

  • Functional orthoticsare designed to control abnormal motion (gait abnormalities). They can also be used to treat injuries such as shin splints or tendinitis. Functional orthotics are usually crafted of a semi-rigid material such as plastic or graphite.
  • Accommodative orthoticsare softer and meant to provide additional cushioning and support. They can be used to treat diabetic foot ulcers, painful calluses on the bottom of the foot, and other uncomfortable conditions.

Which Should You Choose?

If you are simply looking for a little extra cushioning or support for minor aches and pains, you may wish to try an over-the-counter insert first before scheduling an appointment with us. If this reduces your pain to a manageable level and allows you to return to full activity, great!

Generally speaking, though, custom orthotics are going to provide better results, especially if you are experiencing serious pain or difficulty. Because they are molded to fit your individual foot and designed with a diagnosis in mind, you can be confident that your custom orthotics will fit and do what they are supposed to do.

Custom orthotics have a higher “sticker price” than over-the-counter inserts, but the additional cost is usually well worth it. Furthermore, because custom orthotics are made from high quality materials and can usually be adjusted or refurbished when necessary, a single pair can last years when well cared for. Your insurance may even provide coverage as well. Once you add all this up, you may find that custom orthotics provide far superior value, and may even be the cheaper option over the long term.

(Click here to download a form you can give your insurance provider to determine if orthotics are covered by your plan).


If your feet are hurting and simple inserts aren’t cutting it, please schedule an appointment with the foot & ankle biomechanics experts at Southern California Foot & Ankle Specialists. We will make sure you get set up with the right treatments—orthotics or otherwise. To schedule, please call (949) 364-9255 today.

Contact Us

Robert Spencer, DPM

Nitza Rodriguez, DPM

Han Nguyen, DPM

Map & Directions

333 Corporate Drive, Suite 230, Ladera Ranch, CA 92694
Tel: (949) 364-9255 (WALK)
Fax: (949) 364-9250
Office Hours:
Monday - Friday: 9am - 5pm
*(Lunch 12 noon - 1pm)