More research is still needed to determine who might benefit, and under what circumstances, Whittaker said by email.
"Appropriately contoured foot orthoses may reduce plantar heel pain by redistributing pressure away from the bottom of the heel to the arch, and may also prevent the arch from dropping, which may reduce tension in the plantar fascia," Whittaker said.
One limitation of the current study is that it examined results from many small experiments with different methods for testing the effectiveness of orthotics. The small studies also differed in duration and how they assessed pain relief.
Even though they were widely used, orthotics aren't the only option for plantar heel pain, said Dr. Selene Parekh, a researcher at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina and partner in the North Carolina Orthopedic Clinic.
Patients can also try night splints or stretching exercises done at home or as part of a supervised physical therapy program, Parekh, who wasn't involved in the study, said by email.
Modified exercise and activity habits may also help avoid irritating the tissues around the heel that cause pain. If they choose orthotics, patients should look for the cheapest option.
"It seems that patients can attempt to provide some relief to their plantar heel pain using cheaper, readily available orthotics found in grocery stores, online, and stores in their community," Parekh added. "Based on this study, it appears that the cost of a custom orthotic, which can reach hundreds of dollars, is not medically necessary."