Foot pain can be a common problem for people of all ages. It can be caused by injury, overuse, physical development, or disease. Many people use orthotics to relieve the pain, support their feet, and help with balance. Orthotics foot products are shaped like the inside of your shoe. They are inserted into the shoes. These products often are called shoe inserts, arch supports, or insoles.

Or, the items can be ordered and designed for your needs by a prescription from your doctor.

Path to improved wellness

Orthotics are made with hard or soft materials, or a combination of both. You can buy over-the-counter orthotic products already made at most stores. Or your doctor may feel you need custom-fit orthotics for your condition. If so, he or she will give you a prescription for the orthotic. It will be made or ordered to fit your needs.

Shoe inserts or arch supports feel like cushions between your feet and shoe. They are made from various foam, cork, and plastic materials. They come in various thicknesses and slip into your shoes. Some over-the-counter products must be trimmed with scissors to fit your shoe size. Once they’ve been inserted into your shoes, this provides a softer foundation for your foot if you are experiencing pain. Also, it may help with your balance while standing or walking. Older people often turn to shoe inserts as the heel fat on the bottom of their heel begins to thin. People who stand most of the day for their jobs use shoe inserts to cushion the stress on their feet.

Over-the-counter orthotics products cost between $8 and $20 per pair. They may need to be replaced every 6 months to a year. Custom-made orthotics could cost between $100 and $300 per pair and last between 5 and 10 years. Check with your insurance provider to see how much of the cost is covered by your insurance.

Having shoes that fit properly is important in treating foot pain. Some shoe styles don’t offer much arch support. You may develop pain from lack of support. Your doctor may recommend an inexpensive shoe insert. Some shoe styles have built-in arch support. They may be more expensive.

It may take some time to get used to having orthotics in your shoes. If the inserts are uncomfortable, try wearing them for short periods and build up to longer wear. After wearing them for long periods of time, try walking barefoot for a period to allow your muscles to strengthen naturally. Also, some products may cause blisters. Wearing socks and applying a medicated ointment to the blister can help. Talk to your doctor if you have not found inserts that help.

Things to consider

Orthotics may be very helpful for the following medical conditions:

  • Plantar fasciitis. This condition occurs when the tissue connecting your heel bone to your toes becomes swollen. It causes pain in the heel of your foot.
  • Shin splints. This condition occurs when your shin (leg) bone is damaged. This usually occurs with athletes who run a lot. .
  • Stress fractures. Stress fractures in the foot involve the metatarsal bones. These long bones connect your ankle to your toes. When this bone has a small break, it is called a stress fracture. It is common with athletes.
  • This is the most common form of arthritis. It can occur in the joints of your knees.
  • Patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS). This condition causes pain in your knee. It is the result of damaged cartilage in your kneecap.
  • Flat feet/fallen arches. Damaged tendons in your feet cause this condition. Pain occurs in the middle of the bottom of your foot.
  • Retrocalc aneal bursitis. This is swelling at the back of your heel bone. It happens with a history of arthritis or intense physical activity.
  • Tarsal tunnel syndrome. This condition affects the tibial nerve near the ankle. It causes a burning pain and a “pins and needles” sensation near the side bone of the ankle. The pain moves to the arch of the foot.
  • Bunions/corns. These small growths on the foot can be painful when walking, standing, or running. While a doctor can remove corns, for example, they can grow back. Foot inserts are important to your comfort.
  • Cerebral palsy. This medical condition can cause you to have an unsteady walk (gait). Foot orthotics are important in helping you keep your balance.
  • Diabetes. If not controlled with diet, exercise, and medicine, diabetes can damage the nerves in your feet. This can cause diabetic neuropathy (shooting pains and tingling) in your feet.

Questions to ask your doctor

  • Can I outgrow the need to use foot orthotics?
  • Do I have to wear shoes with laces?
  • Can foot problems develop from wearing cheap, thin shoes?
  • Can foot problems develop from going barefoot too much?


American Podiatric Medical Association, Prescription Custom Orthotics and Shoe Inserts