Over the Counter Inserts vs Custom Orthotics

Should You Try an Over the Counter Insert Before Going to a Custom Molded Orthotic?

Occasionally, I am told by a patient that they want to try an over the counter insert first. Then, if it helps, they will get the custom-made orthotics.  Although this thinking is not completely flawed, this type of test does have significant limitations as to the results.

The most accurate analogy I can think of would be that pre-made orthotics are simply like over the counter, pre-made, off the shelf eye glasses.  If they are correcting your vision in the direction your eyes need, then they may be able to see better.  However, if they are not in the direction of your needed visual correction, then you will not see well. If you get the wrong pair of pre-made glasses, does that mean a prescription pair of glasses will not help?  Of course not.

Over the Counter Shoe Inserts

There are many, many available types of over the counter inserts. So how do you know which pair to purchase?  Do you rely on a machine that will tell you which one of a very limited selection is best?

Over the Counter vs Custom Orthotic
This is a pile of over the counters inserts a client brought in to show us what she had tried before seeking professional help.


The best situation would be for a trained experienced individual to help you narrow the choices down based on your foot type, structure, problems, etc.  Then, try them out in your shoes and walk on a concrete walkway.  If it is in the direction of the alignment (and support) you need, then one will typically say it feels better as it is a more “natural” walk.  This will then give you a reasonable idea if a custom made pair will help even more so.  Otherwise, your test is like a shot in the dark. If you did not pick out the ideal pre-made pair for your feet, then it will not give any real indication if a custom made one will help.  However, be aware that even if the ideal pre-made insert for you did not help, it does not mean a custom-made pair will not help either.

Custom Made Orthotics

Custom made orthotics are fabricated to your individual feet and needs, just like a pair of prescription glasses.  Each lense to an individual eye.  Each orthotic to a foot.  Remember, feet typically are not symmetrical. A pre-made orthotic cannot match all your arches exactly like a custom-made pair can.

Getting the ideal fit, support and alignment one needs for each foot can only be accomplished with a custom molded foot orthotic, just like the prescription pair of glasses.


David J. Sables, D.P.M., C.Ped