At one point, Chris was barely able to walk due to plantar fasciitis. Years of chronic pain led her to treat it at home successfully.
What I've Learned
I learned long ago something ironic—that comfortable shoes that come with removable footbeds, like running shoes and hiking boots, rarely offer adequate arch support for plantar fasciitis. This type of footwear can support the arch if you do as I did and switch out the native insoles with inserts featuring shock-absorbing cushioning and an anatomical profile.
Such inserts for plantar fasciitis may be custom-made by prescription from a podiatrist or—my preference—obtained over-the-counter (OTC). I tried several models and found my personal favorite that worked for me.
The best OTC inserts are not necessarily your regular Dr. Scholls that you pick up at the drugstore but rather insoles by Sole, Lynco, Sorbothane, Orthaheel, and other specialized manufacturers of orthopedic footbeds.
Such insoles come in full or partial lengths and are specially designed to provide arch support inside a shoe. They may also add extra cushioning by way of a layer of foam or gel padding.
But what really sets them apart is their rigid or semi-rigid strength, their curved shape, and their resilience. They help stabilize the foot, assisting with overpronation or any other gait irregularities people with heel pain are dealing with.
OTC or Custom Orthotics? Which is Better?
Expensive podiatrist-prescribed orthotics may not be necessary to help heal the pain of plantar fasciitis. According to a 2009 study published in the Annals of the Academy of Medicine, Singapore, both over-the-counter, prefabricated inserts and prescription-only, custom-made orthotics were effective in reducing pressure on the heel in plantar fasciitis patients.
Supportive inserts can help with heel pain caused by plantar fasciitis because they add three things to a shoe:
- Arch support and pressure dissipation
Cushioning helps with shock absorption, meaning less trauma to the foot.
A contoured footbed with arch support helps with flat feet. But even people without flat feet can benefit because an anatomical footbed with arch support helps to simulate an environment of barefoot-uneven-ground walking. What does this mean? Walking and running on hard concrete ground and hard floors in shoes without arch support is common today. It causes the foot to take the brunt of the impact on the forefoot and heel. A naturally contoured footbed that conforms to the shape of the foot, on the other hand, disperses the impact throughout the entire foot, which is more like walking barefoot or in soft moccasins on uneven ground - your whole foot comes in contact with the ground.
Stabilization means that orthotics can correct stride problems such as excessive pronation or underpronation. Typically, if you pronate, you'll want more arch support, and if you underpronate, you'll want more cushioning.
For the same reason, it is possible for some people to have too much arch support in an insole. Arch support that is too intense can cause the opposite problem in people who supinate or have high arches and rigid feet—it can put all the weight of the body on the arch and too little on the forefoot or heel.
Tips for Wearing Shoe Inserts for Plantar Fasciitis
- Unless advised otherwise by a physician, always wear inserts on both feet, even though only one foot may be affected by plantar fasciitis.
- Don't think expensive is necessarily better. Although in some cases of plantar fasciitis, expensive custom-made orthotics are necessary and advised by podiatrists, other times, the much cheaper over-the-counter insoles will work very well. The best inserts are the ones that will match the natural contours of your feet, especially the location and height of the arch. Some insoles, such as Sole Custom Footbeds, can be customized to fit a variety of arch heights. Others come in standard sizing. Choose the one that best matches your foot's shape.
- Excellent arch support is usually therapeutic for people with plantar fasciitis, but if you are not used to wearing shoes with arch support, it can also be a shock to the muscles of your feet and affect the joints involved in stride and posture - ankles, knees, and hips. To avoid these problems, adjust your feet to the inserts as gradually as necessary. Wear them just a few minutes the first day, a few more minutes the next day, and increase daily—how much depends on your arch, your feet, your pain. If your orthopedic shoe insoles ever cause you discomfort, remove them immediately and try again tomorrow. If the discomfort doesn't go away or the therapeutic insoles cause actual pain, ask your podiatrist or read the instructions for fitting the insert to see if they can be further adjusted to the natural contours of your feet.
- Start with just one set of insoles from a single manufacturer. Try them on in the store, or order them online. If they work for you, consider buying more pairs to keep them in each shoe. This is especially true for shoes that fit slightly differently, but I've found it's much more convenient to wear my Sole orthotics (the brand I use) when each one is dedicated to its own pair of shoes, and I don't have to switch them out each time I change shoes. Plus, I've found they seem to last longer that way.
- This article is not in any way, shape, or form medical advice but generalized advice offered by someone who has suffered from plantar fasciitis and researched it and eliminated her own heel pain. Before trying shoe inserts for plantar fasciitis, please always check with your doctor or podiatrist.
Sole Shoe Inserts for Heel Pain
SOLE Ultra Footbeds
SOLE Ultra footbeds are designed for running shoes, hiking boots, work boots, and other athletic shoes or "stand-all-day" footwear.
Read More From Patientslounge
If you've read my other articles on footwear for plantar fasciitis and treating heel pain, you know how much I love my SOLE footbeds. After trying cheap shoe inserts and a few more pricey ones, I tried SOLE and never looked back. Their "customizability" turned out to be the ticket.
SOLE arch support insoles were a far cheaper option than traditional custom-made orthotic inserts. I suspect they might even be more effective due to the long-lasting layer of cushioning as well as the rigid arch support. Because correct me if I'm wrong, but aren't most customized podiatrist-fitted orthotics very hard, without any cushioning?
I've learned I'm not alone. SOLE, a company in Canada, makes very popular footbeds for professional and amateur athletes. The Ultra footbed has an extra thick layer of cushioning, but SOLE also makes inserts for casual and even dress shoes.
The clincher with these footbeds is that they are heat moldable—that's what makes them "custom." You pop them in the oven at a low temperature (instructions are included) and then put them in the shoes you're going to wear them in and stand in the shoes, and the orthopedic arch support molds to your foot's individual contours. You should only need to do this once, maybe twice if the first time didn't do it.
Personally? I tried Superfeet several years ago at my local shoe store and found the models available in my area to have decent arch support—for somebody else's feet, not mine. The arch support was in the wrong place, and they were too narrow for me.
Superfeet insoles are popular with athletes. I've learned the different models of different Superfeet inserts work best with the kind of arch support specified—such as "low to medium" or "medium to high"—though they generally say they work with all arch heights.
Plus, each model is also made specifically to accommodate the kind of motion involved in participating in different sports, such as hockey and skating, running, tennis, etc.
So if I tried them again, this time, I'd do more research and order the inserts specifically that matched my feet.
Birkenstock Arch Support Footbeds
Birkenstock Blue Footbeds
These rigid 3/4-length blue footbeds are almost iconic in their fame. I wanted to like them. I'm a huge Birkenstock fan, and when I was shopping around for over-the-counter orthotic footbeds, these were practically the only big player in town. At the time, the blue footbeds had rigid contours with no added cushioning. (Today, they come with a cork insert.)
And they were pretty awesome, with very sturdy support. Except they are short! I understand this helps them fit into many styles of shoes. I understand the arch support is rigid where it counts—along the arch. But I was annoyed by the edges and could never forget I was wearing them for one moment. I was afraid they would slip around but didn't give them enough of a chance.
Today Birkenstock makes a much wider range of inserts, some with cork cushioning, some that are full-length. If I were unhappy with my Soles, I'd consider trying them again.
And the Winner Is . . .
In my experience, foot doctors try to dissuade their PF patients from going barefoot since that puts too much pressure on an injured plantar fascia. This is all well and good. But they encourage patients to wear footwear with excellent arch support every time they bear weight. Every. Single. Time. Yes, even in the shower. Challenging!
Sometimes shoes come with their own arch support; more often don't—at least, not enough.
As I said, custom-made orthotics is one answer, but these can be expensive and lack sufficient cushioning for people who are runners, walkers, and other athletes.
Over-the-counter inserts can help turn any shoe with a removable footbed into an orthopedic shoe. The key is to get the right insert for the shape of your foot and to make sure the insert fits in the shoe (specifically, for dress shoes with a low instep, make sure to get slim shoe inserts instead of ones with thick cushioning).
If you go this route, don't forget to follow the break-in tips, and always ask your podiatrist for recommendations with any foot-related medical questions you have.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
Kellie on February 28, 2017:
Chet on February 18, 2015:
A product called Heel That Pain, an insert for the heel, is wonderful and definitely was a part of my healing process. Along with New Balance, Merrell, Birkenstock and many good orthotic inserts. Good socks also helped and of course, stretches, icing, etc.
Alex on October 29, 2013:
I too have had problems with plantar fasciitis. I found that wearing better shoes with in built arch support really helped me. I highly recommend Bared Footwear. They sell shoes designed by a podiatrist that don't look daggy like most comfort shoes. A god send. www.bared.com.au
Terri on December 11, 2011:
Why aren't Powerstep orthopedic insoles not covered in this review? They are also approved by the American Podiatric Medical Association and are quite popular. I'm surprised they are not mentioned anywhere in this article. Does anyone else have any positive experiences with them? I Just bought a pair based on reviews from the internet. I don't have plantar fasciitis, but I bought them for overpronation issues and early stages of bunion development. Any comments would be welcome..
Gillian on May 19, 2011:
I use WelStand insoles now, and of all I've tried, they are the best for my needs. And I can wear them with open toe shoes without them sticking out the front since they have a special top cover for those types of shoes.
planetway on February 09, 2011:
I've found that Barefoot Science are the only insoles that have worked for me, because rather than cushioning your feet, they actually strengthen, stabilize and rehabilitate them. My problem started with plantar fasciitis and then turned into acute achilles tendonitis. You can read about my experience here: