Insoles, also known as inserts, are the product that you can find in pharmacies and other healthcare shops. They are usually made of a soft gel material, and may also have other forms of foam or plastic if they are designed to address a specific problem e.g. fallen arches.
Insoles offer cushioning and support to the foot, which reduces pain in two different ways. While this may provide some short-term relief, insoles are mass-produced and designed to suit as wide a range of people as possible. So while they may help, they can only go so far in terms of actually addressing the root cause of the problem. This means that the symptoms are likely to persist, or possibly worsen over time if not properly addressed.
Orthotics are similar to inserts, but with the important distinction of being custom made. This of course means that they will be designed to address not only the specific issue that you have, but they will also be designed to fit your feet perfectly, not approximately. This greatly increases their effectiveness in reducing pain and correcting existing problems.
Like insoles, orthotics can also be used to cushion your feet and provide arch support, but more successfully. Unlike insoles, orthotics can also be used to correct the way we stand and walk. Even the slightest deviation in your feet can lead to knock on effects that go right up your body. The shins, knees, and back are just some of the body parts that can be adversely affected by improper posture or gait. Orthotics address this by spreading the pressure evenly around your feet, and making sure that they hit the ground at the right angle, which is why it is so important that these are custom made.
Insoles typically last about 6 months, whereas orthotics can last for up to five years. These lifespans reflect the length of time the products are supposed to be used. So if you’re experiencing some discomfort at certain times, insoles may be the right choice. Orthotics yield results that are more noticeable and faster than those offered by insoles, so if you have been experiencing pain consistently for a long period of time, you should be looking at orthotics.
While insoles are not as effective, they can still provide short term relief, but would generally be more suitable for people who do not experience the pain consistently or regularly. In fact, insoles can be used as a preventative measure if you engage in any activity that requires you to be on your feet for extended periods of time. For example, they are popular among floor staff in shops and restaurants.
So while the two may seem almost identical, the reality is that they are different products that will give different results. As mentioned above, the slightest problem with your feet can have knock on effects throughout your whole body, so although it may be tempting to just pick up a pair of insoles, remember that you may be making things worse, not better. If you are unsure which, if either, is best for you, you should discuss your issues with a podiatrist.