The History of Chaco Sandals (Part 1)

by Mark Paigen 6 min read

5 Comments

The History of Chaco Sandals (Part 1)

My love affair with functional footwear and biomechanics started in the late 1980s. I was living in western Colorado, trying to bring together my passion for footwear and the outdoors...

Guiding on The Gunnison River

Spending the day in wet running shoes was definitely not the answer. I loved my job as a whitewater/fly fishing guide, but my feet were as wrinkled as raisins. Any grit in my shoes wore holes in my soggy skin. Working on the river was heaven, but my feet were in hell. There had to be a better way. A few guides wore early Teva sandals; one had Alps. Made with synthetic materials, these sandals didn’t trap water and allowed your feet to dry in the sun. Great idea. So simple. I had always thought of sandals as leather. Changing the materials created a new kind of shoe. I was hooked.

The History of Chaco Sandals – The Early Years

The “sport sandal” concept was great, but the execution – not so much. Neither Tevas nor Alps supported your feet. Neither used quality materials. I had ideas. With a background in custom shoe making, my mind was filled with ways to improve amphibious footwear. I knew I could take sport sandals to a higher level. My plan was to focus on 5 key points:

  • Synthetic materials
  • Anatomical strap placement
  • A continuous pull-through strap
  • Top shelf components – especially outsoles from Vibram
  • No Velcro

I made a few pairs for myself. The pull-through strap was time consuming to make but held my feet really well. The design used a single plastic buckle, no Velcro. Instead of my feet softening from being wet, they toughened up as they had time to dry. Sand was removed easily with a dip in the river. Interesting tan lines developed on my feet.

A Boatman’s Holiday

Guiding was great. Some trips were whitewater oriented, but the focus was shifting to fly fishing. I learned how to read the water and cast a fly. We guided a Gold Metal trout stream in a beautiful, isolated gorge. A pristine river with stunning side canyons and abundant wildlife. Rowing the raft, educating the clients, sleeping under the stars. It was tons of fun. I had a big beard and small, dark sunglasses. I’d pull my brimmed hat down to keep the sun at bay. Clients always had questions. What do you do in winter? Is it hard to row the raft? How deep is the water?

Sometimes we made up stories, mostly we just told them the truth about life in rural, western Colorado and the combinations of jobs that kept us going. Carpenter, landscaper, caterer, tree trimmer. I kept busy.

Clients also asked about gear. If a guide had something, it probably worked. They asked about my sandals. I explained my background in custom shoes, my obsession with improving the concept of sport sandals. They wanted some. At the end of the 3-day float, I would trace their feet on paper on one of the raft floorboards and go home and build them a custom pair. $30. Postpaid. The history of Chaco sandals shows the passion I have towards quality foot products.

Starting a Business

The difference between a river guide and a US savings bond is that after 20 years, the savings bond matures and starts to earn money. After five years of guiding, the writing was on the wall. It was time to find a better way to sustain myself. I had kids.

Start a business, I thought. It will be easy. Not really. But with lots of energy and the desire to make the best sport sandals on the planet, I began building footwear in a spare room in my house. Sales, marketing, manufacturing, distribution? Not a clue. Drive, passion, a bit of hubris – in spades. I threw a few pairs in my pack and drove over the hill to the outdoor shop in Glenwood Springs, CO called Summit Canyon Mountaineering. I found the owner and showed him what I had made. He bought a few pairs and gave me great feedback. Other small shops bought product and helped educate me about retail business. Seasonality, margins, and payment terms. Trade shows, reps, accounts receivable – it seemed endless.

Out of the Box

The most common sandals in the early 1990s were Teva Universals, a Velcro-based sandal that sold easily. Whitewater shops put them in baskets on the floor and customers bought them – self-serve. The pull-through straps on Chaco sandals were not as easy. Adjustment was not intuitive, and the sandals had to be fitted by a salesperson. Some shops were hesitant. There weren't enough Chaco sandals in use.

In 1991, we switched from fabricating each footbed by hand to having them molded out of polyurethane. The mold cost was huge; our volume did not justify the expense. But the product was infinitely better. Way more comfortable, much better looking, much easier to make. With the comfort of polyurethane and a better presentation, sales picked up.

The Origin of the Z/1

The whitewater community, blossoming in the ‘90s, started talking about Chaco. The official history of Chaco sandals had begun. As we grew, we got requests for an open-toe design. Guides wanted a sandal that would hold the foot as well as our original toe-loop designs without having their big toe strapped in. In 1993, I found a German-trained Pedorthist to help solve the problem. I was sure it involved strap placement, but I was proven wrong. I learned that straps are not the only way to keep a foot centered on a sandal footbed. The right kind of arch support aligned the foot and kept it from sliding off the outside edge of the sole. I learned about biomechanics, pronation, and how to support the foot for maximum efficiency.

My mentor and I worked in his shop, making plaster molds, vacuum-forming EVA foam, and creating prototypes. A happy mistake led to the raised heel posts that effectively stabilized the heel of the foot. We realized that we were creating a sandal with a ‘generic orthotic’ built into the design of the shoe. It had an aggressive arch support. We had no idea how many people would like it. We didn’t know that it would change the way people understood comfort in sandals. We took our best model and sent it off to have a mold made.

A New Standard

It took a couple of iterations to get it right. When we were confident that the sandal was ready for customers, we ordered a size run of molds. We had to come up with a name. Names are the hardest part. Out hiking with my best friend, he put on his cheesiest French accent and told me that the sandal should be named Z/1 because it was “Zee One!” Sounded pretty lame to me, but I had nothing better. Z/1 it was.

Z/1 became the new Chaco standard. Within a few years we dropped all our flatter footbeds and concentrated on “Zee One”. The values we had started with were alive and well in the product. Now we added a highly contoured footbed – with an arch support that turned customers into advocates.

History of Chaco Sandals

Values-Based Business

There were other things about Chaco that resonated with customers. We were the only company to build our sandals in the USA. Our sandals were re-soleable. Everyone else made throw-away product. We donated heavily to social and environmental causes and wore our values on our sleeves. Chaco wasn’t for everyone. Prices were higher than the competition. Distribution was through specialty retail, not big-box stores.

But we were growing quickly. The large chain retailers knocked on our door, but they just didn’t feel like a cultural fit. There was certainly heated discussion internally. Growth is intoxicating. We held our line. We weren’t the biggest sport sandal company, but were the strongest at specialty retail. Our sales meetings were still river trips. Our factory in Paonia, CO was a big part of a small community. We paid people to ride their bikes to work and to quit smoking. It was rewarding to grow a business based on quality and values. It was a great time.

With Growth Comes Challenges

Stay tuned for part 2 of the history of Chaco sandals...

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Mark Paigen
Mark Paigen


5 Responses

MItchell Fuller
MItchell Fuller

September 16, 2019

Waiting on part 2 of this story. Visited the factory in the Summer of 1999, Jonathan my phone pal since 1997 showed me around. Still rolling around the world in Z1s. God bless you Mark, putting on Z1s for the first time and taking them out for a long walk was transformative.

Liz Ylitalo Eckert
Liz Ylitalo Eckert

August 06, 2019

As the co-owner of a fresh, new, experience-driven sandal brand launched in 2018 and an entrepreneur who is learning every single (sometimes painful, but always forward-moving) step of the way – I’d love to read the highly anticipated Part 2! Or if Mark is available and itching to relay some expertise, I’m free to discuss!

Dan-Tread Labs
Dan-Tread Labs

July 23, 2019

Hi Melinda,
We’re sorry to hear that your Chacos took their final step. Finding reliable and comfortable footwear is no easy task, which is why folks tend to stick with brands they know and trust.
While we don’t offer sandals or shoes, Tread Labs insoles can make just about any style of footwear super comfortable.
With 4 different arch heights, there is a perfect fit for just about everyone.
If we can help answer any questions you may have about finding the right fit, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us.
We’d also love to see your art featuring the Chaco sandals!
Cheers,
Tread Labs

Melinda Hollingsworth
Melinda Hollingsworth

July 23, 2019

Yes, it can happen! After 20 plus years of service in many terrains they couldn’t l take another step. They have been an extension of me. What to do when they die???? Fortunately I’m an artist and they will become part of an art project. Thanks to the people of Chaco and the Chaco nation. Thanks for the memories my faithful pair.

Vaughn Hadenfeldt
Vaughn Hadenfeldt

March 16, 2017

Mark’s history of coming to my store Summit Canyon Mountaineering is correct except my store was in Glenwood Springs not Carbondale.

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Tread Labs Million Mile Guarantee

Tread Labs unique 2-part insole system is designed for the long haul. The molded arch supports are unconditionally guaranteed. Forever. The interchangeable top covers are easy to replace, as often as you need.  

Want proof? Try us for 30 days. If you’re not completely satisfied, send your insoles back for an exchange or full refund, we’ll cover US shipping.

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Shipping Policy

USA - Everything we sell is shipped for free via USPS. Simple as that. Transit time is 3-4 business days. Expedited shipping is available for $35, orders must be received by 2 pm, east coast time.

Canada - For our neighbors to the north, we offer a discounted standard shipping rate of $10. Transit time is 5-7 business days.

International - We ship to most countries of the world. International shipping costs $30 for 1-2 pairs and $45 for 3-5 pairs. All duties, taxes and fees must be paid by the customer.

Returns and Exchanges

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Concerned about the fit of the insole in your shoe or the size of the insole relative to your foot? Give us a call, we’d be delighted to help you find the best solution.

Instructions for returns:

USA -Tread Labs returns process is simple and easy. We’ll email you a pre-paid return label. You may return anything purchased from Tread Labs in exchange for another product or receive a credit to your original payment method.

Initiate a Domestic (USA) Return – Click Here

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Plantar Fasciitis Insoles: How They Help and How To Find the Right Fit

You have plantar fasciitis and you've heard that insoles can help heal it. You buy a pair of soft, pillowy insoles but find the pain only gets worse. So, can insoles really help heal plantar fasciitis? 

THE BASICS ---

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What is Plantar Fasciitis?

Your plantar fascia is a thick band of tissue that connects your heel bone to the base of your toes. You can feel your own plantar fascia by pulling your big toe towards your ankle and feeling the pronounced ridge that runs down the middle of your arch.

Plantar fasciitis (fashy-EYE-tis) is an inflammation of this band of connective tissue. When the band is overstretched, tears occur on the surface of the fibrous tissue. Inflammation and pain follow. Pain usually occurs where the plantar fascia attaches at the center/bottom of your heel bone. 

Plantar Fasciitis is the most common foot condition in the USA. 1 in 10 people will experience this painful ailment at some point in their lifetime. The most common symptom is a stabbing pain on the bottom of your heel. The pain is often worse in the morning or after standing for an extended period.

Who Gets Plantar Fasciitis?

Plantar fasciitis is an overuse injury. It is a chronic irritation of the foot due to excessive strain. With this in mind, some people are more prone to developing the condition than others including athletes, people who stand on concrete all day, and people with flat feet or high arches.

What Causes Plantar Fasciitis?

The plantar fascia, in addition to other muscles and tendons in the foot and lower leg, supports your arch. When excessive forces collapse the arch, plantar fasciitis can occur.

Basic Foot Bio-Mechanics

Here is how your weight should transfer through your foot as you take a normal step:

  1. Your foot strikes the ground at the outside corner of the heel. Wear on your shoe at a 45 degree angle is completely normal.
  2. Your weight moves to the center of your heel, making use of the body's natural fatty pad, located beneath the heel bone.
  3. As the foot rolls forward, your weight transfers along the outside of your foot until it reaches the ball of your foot.
  4. The center of weight then moves inward, across the ball of your foot. This inward rolling motion absorbs some of the shock of the step and is called pronation.
  5. When your center of weight has moved to a spot just behind the 2nd toe, you push off onto the other foot.

Unfortunately, most people's bio-mechanics are not perfect. Most steps actually end more like this:

  1. As the weight shifts inward across the ball of the foot, it continues past the area behind the second toe. This excessive rolling motion is called over-pronation.
  2. When this happens, the arch of the foot stretches, putting stress on the plantar fascia. In addition, the ankle, knee and hip rotate inward, compromising the alignment of your bones and joints.

Relieving Pain From Plantar Fasciitis

To relieve pain from plantar fasciitis and keep it from coming back, a 3-prong approach works best:

What Are The Best Insoles For Plantar Fasciitis?

Shoe inserts for plantar fasciitis relieve pain by limiting pronation (the foot rolling inward). To be effective, the best insoles for plantar fasciitis should have these features: firm support, a precise fit that mimics the contours of your arch, a deep heel cup and resilient cushioning.

Tread Labs Plantar Fasciitis Insoles

Finding the right insole to address your plantar fasciitis pain starts with determining your arch height. Once you know your arch height, you can choose your plantar fasciitis inserts based on the shoes in which you'll wear them. You'll want different top cover thicknesses depending on whether you shoes have thick full-length removable inserts, thin full-length removable inserts, or no removable inserts at all.

To make sure you're giving your aches the full support they need, find insoles that match your arch height - low, medium, high or extra high. Pain relief insoles for plantar fasciitis work best when they match the contours of our arch, giving you firm support across your foot.

Plantar fasciitis is a pain, but with the right care, you can be back to doing what you love, pain free.

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Heel Spur Vs Plantar Fasciitis: What’s The Difference?

If you've ever hopped out of bed in the morning and felt a bothersome pain at the bottom of the heel when you take your first few steps, you've probably wondered what what causing it. Even if it ends up going away later in the day. We'll explain what it could be, and what you can do to stop it from happening.

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Heel spurs and plantar fasciitis are two terms frequently used when discussing certain types of heel pain. And while they're actually very different issues, they can be addressed with the same types of treatment. 

Difference Between Heel Spur Pain And Plantar Fasciitis Pain

For one reason or another, there are some misconceptions about how plantar fasciitis and heel spurs are connected. People tend to think that heel spurs are a common cause of heel pain, however that's not the case.

The truth is that while heel spurs might be associated with pain, they are usually not the reason it occurs, as the Cleveland Clinic points out. Instead, the majority of the time, plantar fasciitis is the responsible party when heel pain strikes.

What is Plantar Fasciitis?

According to Podiatry Today, "plantar fasciitis is at epidemic levels with suggestions that one in six Americans may have the condition." As it has become so common, it's important to understand exactly what plantar fasciitis is.

The plantar fascia is a thick, connective band of soft tissue that stretches from the back of your heel to the base of your toes. As a ligament, it connects the bones in these two areas and it’s designed to be a shock absorber for the high amount of stress you put on your feet.

The plantar fascia is strong and can withstand a great deal of force, but too much pressure can damage or tear it. The body responds to this damage by becoming inflamed, and inflammation of the plantar fascia is called plantar fasciitis. 

Plantar fasciitis is usually described as a stabbing pain under the arch and/or on the bottom of the foot near the heel. This pain tends to be worse in the morning and after long periods of standing, exercise, or rest. There may also be some redness and swelling in the area.

Sometime plantar fasciitis can be confused with Achilles tendinitis. As the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons explains, "Achilles tendinitis is a common condition that occurs when the large tendon that runs down the back of your lower leg becomes irritated and inflamed.

The Achilles tendon is the largest and strongest tendon in the body. It attaches the calf muscles to the back of the heel and allows you to stand on your toes when walking, running, or jumping. When you train too hard or intensely without enough rest, Achilles tendinitis can occur, causing pain at the back of the heel or directly above it.

What is a Heel Spur?

A heel spur, as explained by ScienceDirectis a type of bone spur, or calcium deposit, that develops toward the back of the calcaneus, or heel bone, where the plantar fascia inserts. These small, jagged bumps of bone usually develop in response to lots of trauma—or damage—to the heel.

This means that in most cases, heel spurs actually form as a result of plantar fasciitis. If the plantar fascia continues to be damaged for a long period of time, the body will eventually create a heel spur to provide additional support for the heel.

Heel spurs are associated with a similar stabbing type of sensation in the heel that is usually worse in the morning and comes and goes throughout the day. But the major difference here is that the heel spur itself is rarely the actual cause of this pain.

In fact, about 10% of the population has heel spurs whether they know it or not, but only 5% of those with spurs will have heel pain. The true reason for pain in most of these individuals, as you might have guessed, is plantar fasciitis.

Heel Spurs vs. Plantar Fasciitis: Similarities & Differences

Here is one of the easiest ways to remember how these two conditions are different: many people have heel spurs without plantar fasciitis or heel pain, but it’s rare to find someone with plantar fasciitis who does not have a heel spur.

According to one study, approximately 50% of patients with plantar fasciitis also have bone spurs. Since about 1 in 10 people would show a heel spur on an X-ray of their foot, they are only considered an incidental—or insignificant—finding unless there is also foot pain.

When a heel spur forms, it is usually not responsible for causing any foot pain on its own. Instead, the pain is due to the foot condition that caused the spur. So, if you have a heel spur and notice pain at the back of the heel, you probably have Achilles tendinitis.

If the pain is on the bottom of the heel, plantar fasciitis is most likely the reason. Many people have heel spurs without any symptoms at all, and experts are still trying to figure out exactly how spurs relate to heel pain.

Since both plantar fasciitis and heel spurs result from a similar process, the risk factors associated with them are shared in common. The following factors increase the chances of developing both conditions:

It’s also important to point out that although the symptoms of plantar fasciitis and a heel spur seem similar, there is one way to help tell them apart. Plantar fasciitis symptoms may be felt in the arch as well as the heel, some patients have it for a while before they notice the stabbing heel pain. In rare cases where heel spurs are responsible, the jabbing pain will be centered in the heel.

Treating Both Conditions with the Same Type of Approach

If you’re experiencing heel pain, your doctor will examine your foot and may recommend an X-ray to confirm the diagnosis. Although plantar fasciitis is the most common cause of heel pain, it’s important to rule out other causes like Achilles tendinitis, stress fractures, a broken heel, or tarsal tunnel syndrome.

With a diagnosis of either plantar fasciitis or a heel spur, nonsurgical treatments are always recommended first and are usually successful. These include:

For patients whose pain doesn’t improve after 6-12 months of trying these nonsurgical treatments, surgery is an option. 

Healing From Plantar Fasciitis And Heel Spurs

When it comes to heel spur vs plantar fasciitis conditions, it's important to remember that the latter often leads to the former. The good news is that more than 90% of patients with plantar fasciitis will improve in less than 10 months after following these simple nonsurgical treatments.

On the other hand, allowing the pain to persist or trying to push through it will only make matters worse and can lead to bigger foot problems.

With so many different options for treatment, it can be hard to figure out where to start. But, taking charge of your heel pain by finding one that works for you can have you experiencing more mobility and freedom as your heel pain gradually fades away.

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What Are The Best Insoles For Flat Feet? How To Find Comfort For Flat Feet

For people with flat feet, buying insoles can get really confusing. Should you buy  cushy foam inserts or firm and supportive insoles? And what about arch height? Should it be low to mimic your arch or high to create the arch you don't have? We're clearing up the confusion by answering these questions, and the ones you didn't even know you needed to ask.

THE BASICS ---

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The arches of our feet help us move efficiently throughout the day. By allowing the middle part of the foot to flex like a bow, they add shock absorption and flexibility to our gait. Whatever your activity, your arches absorb the physical shock of landing and improve your balance when standing or moving.

Supporting your arches is crucial to preventing foot pain and injuries. For people with flat feet, it can be tricky finding the perfect amount of arch support. Supporting the arch however, is crucial in preventing pain.

Insoles for Flat Feet

What Causes Flat Feet?

Flat feet (pes planus) occur when the entire bottom of your foot (the sole) touches the ground when you’re standing.

Both genetic and environmental factors can lead to flat feet. Most of the time, genetic factors will lead to people have flat feet their entire life. However, environmental factors can lead to flat feet later in life. This is called acquired flat foot, or fallen arches.

Common causes of flat feet include:

Not sure if you have flat feet? Use this quick, simple test to determine your arch height.

What Injuries Are Caused By Flat Feet?

Whether you have flat feet naturally or fallen arches because of an injury or other condition, both can cause many of the same injuries and problems including tired feet, foot pain, ankle swelling, and overpronation.

While many of these flat foot problems and injuries can be addressed easily with the right insoles, avoiding them altogether is the goal.

How Can I Relieve Pain From Flat Feet?

Strengthening and stretching exercises for the feet, calves and ankles can help alleviate pain related to your low arch height. For long term pain relief, add arch supporting insoles to your footwear.

Start by taking some time to do the following exercises:

Strengthen And Stretch The Foot

A weak "foot core" (intrinsic muscles of the foot) can lead to instability and injury. While we often focus on the big extrinsic muscles that support the ankle and foot (these generate most of the foot's motion), there are 11 small intrinsic muscles located entirely in the foot. These stabilize your foot during strike and push-off. They absorb load and store energy mid-stance. Most importantly, these muscles support the arch of the foot. Strengthening these muscles will allow them to better support the arch.

Here are two quick foot core exercises:

Strengthen And Stretch The Calves And Ankle

Tight calves and Achilles tendons pull up on the ankle, forcing the foot to pronate, or roll inwards. This, in turn, causes the arch to collapse. Stretching the calves and heel cords are important to prevent fallen arches.

Here are two simple exercises to try:

Stretching and strengthening the arch and calves will help relieve the pain associated with flat feet. But finding supportive insoles for flat feet will provide the long-term arch support your feet really need.

Do Flat Feet Need Arch Support Insoles?

People with flat feet are often confused about how much arch support is optimum. They wonder if a soft, cushy shoe insert is better than a firm one with a defined arch. Flat feet do need arch support insoles, the best of which offer a low, but supportive arch and heel stabilization.

Finding the best insoles for flat feet starts with identifying the type of flat feet you have - rigid flat feet or flexible flat feet. 

It is important to make the distinction between rigid flat feet and flexible flat feet because the best flat foot insole arch height for each arch is different. 

The best insoles for flat feet will have:

Remember, if you have flat feet, wearing the the right footwear will make a huge different. Shoes that don't offer support or let you add arch support insoles will leave your flat feet feeling tired and in pain at the end of the day. High heels, flip-flops, and sandals can aggravate pain associated with flat feet.

The best thing you can do for flat feet is to determine the kind you have (rigid or flexible) and add flat feet insoles with the appropriate arch height to your footwear. Supporting your low arches with the best insoles for flat feet will do wonders for relieving pain.

Have insoles helped you find comfort for your flat feet? Share your story below.

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Do I Need Prescription Custom Orthotics?

If you're experiencing foot pain, you might be wondering if you need to invest in a pair of custom orthotics. You may have even already seen a podiatrist who has recommended you be fitted for them. But the expensive of custom made orthotics can be a hurdle for lots of people, especially since insurance may not cover them. That might leave you asking yourself, "Do I really need custom orthotics?" Let's find out.

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Orthotic inserts are foot supports worn inside the shoe that provide more comfort and stability than the factory inserts that come in footwear. Scientific research has shown again and again that both over-the-counter and custom molded orthotics, or orthopedic insoles, are effective in treating lower-extremity injuries and pain. Insoles can also help correct biomechanical irregularities in your feet, and solve many foot issues like fallen arches and plantar fasciitis.

Sports podiatrist and Doctor of Podiatric Medicine (DPM) Richard Braver considers orthotics a “cure-all” for many lower-body injuries and pain. According to Braver, “orthotics can prevent and cure a problem by reducing and eliminating the stress that caused it.” Clearly, orthotics are important additions to our shoes. But what are custom orthotics?

What's The Difference Between Custom Orthotics And Over-The-Counter Insoles?

There are two types of orthotics: over-the-counter and custom-made orthopedic insoles (also called custom molded orthotics).

As the American Podiatric Medical Association explains, custom molded orthotics are insoles that have been prescribed by a doctor, often a podiatrist, sports medicine physician, or orthopedic surgeon after conducting a thorough evaluation of your feet, ankles, and legs. They are built for your specific foot and gait, and accommodate your individual foot structure.

Over-the-counter inserts encompass a variety of different foot products including arch supports, insoles, heel liners, and foot cushions. Not all prefabricated insoles are made alike, however, especially when it comes to the level of support they offer.

While scientific research has proven that that insoles help treat and prevent leg, foot and lower-extremity injuries, studies have not found a significant difference between prefabricated versus custom orthotics.

In fact, Dr. Braver believes that for most people, orthopedic or custom-made orthotics should be a last option. Think of it this way. If you have a headache, you rest, take an anti-inflammatory, and drink water. You probably don’t immediately rush off to get an MRI. It’s the same with orthotics. With prices from $300 to $500, prescription insoles are not necessarily the best option for everyone.

So who may be a good candidate for custom orthotics?

People Who May Need Custom Orthopedic Insoles

  1. Diabetics - Diabetes and poor circulation increase the risk of foot ulcers and infections. You might want to see a podiatrist if you have diabetes.
  2. High-performance athletes - Running an ultra-marathon is different than a completing a 5K. If you engage in sustained, high-level activities (particularly weight-bearing ones like running), you could benefit from an orthopedic insole.
  3. People with serious biomechanical issues and recurring injuries that aren’t addressed with over-the-counter versions - If you've tried many over-the-counter options and still suffer from plantar fasciitis, pain or other issues, prescription orthotics may be a good option. However, you'll need to first see a podiatrist or physical therapist to rule out other causes of foot pain such as tight muscles and improper footwear. 

If you don't fall into these three categories, the best over-the-counter insoles might be a better option.

The Types Of Custom Orthotics

  1. Functional orthotics - As William R. Olson, DPM, and former President of the American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine (AAPSM) writes, “The purpose of the functional orthotic is to accurately and precisely position the foot throughout the gait cycle so as to promote proper function.” These orthotics control abnormal motion. They also treat foot pain and injuries such as tendinitis and shin splints. Functional orthotics are often crafted of semi-rigid materials like plastic and graphite.
  2. Accommodative orthotics - Accommodative orthotics are designed to provide cushion and support. They are often custom-fitted for people suffering from diabetic foot ulcers or painful calluses on the bottom of their feet.

Getting Fitted for Custom Molded Insoles

Podiatrist and range of motion test for fitting orthopedic insoles

If you’ve decided you might be a good candidate for custom-molded insoles, it’s time to see a podiatrist. Here is what you can expect when getting fitted for your orthotics.

  1. A Range of Motion Test - Your podiatrist will measure the motion of all your lower-extremity joints (such as your hips, knees, and ankles) in order to identify any irregularities in joint motion like excessive flexibility or extreme limitation. Your doctor will also establish the weightbearing and non-weightbearing functional positions of these joints by testing them while you're standing and walking on them, and when you are lying down.
  2. A Muscle Examination - Your podiatrist well test the lower-extremity muscle groups like the quadriceps and calves to identify any overly weak or tight areas. This will show if your muscles are adding to your injury, symptoms, or biomechanical problems.
  3. A Non-Weightbearing Neutral Position Cast of the Foot - Your podiatrist will cast your foot to provide a model for the orthotic laboratory. As Dr. Olsen says, “The specific method of casting is critical and must be done accurately in order to achieve an accurate impression of the foot in its neutral position.” 
Because custom orthotics must be based on your foot in it's neutral position, stomp-box moldable orthotics are ineffective in treating biomechanical problems. They take an impression in a weightbearing position, thus incorporating any biomechanical issues into the build of the orthotic.

    Questions Your Podiatrist May Ask

    Your podiatrist should perform a thorough examination that includes all the elements listed above as well ask you questions about your pain and foot problems.

    A good podiatrist will ask you to explain the type, frequency, and duration of all the activities you engage in as well as your overall lifestyle. Are you on your feet all day at work, lifting heavy loads? Your podiatrist should know this. Have a long history of plantar fasciitis or stress fractures? This is important information.

    Your podiatrist should also look at the wear pattern of your shoes to understand your gait mechanics. Podiatrists look for the following patterns:

    A thorough examination is the foundation for effective, reliable custom-made orthopedic insoles.

    Well-made, custom-molded orthotics (a pair of orthotics made for a particular individual) are quite expensive ($300 and up), and there is a small group of people who will benefit from them.

    Custom-molded orthotics are designed to control pronation and increase the comfort and performance of footwear. There are many providers for custom-molded orthotics, and some are better than others. You’ll want to consider a few factors when searching for a provider.

    Finding The Right Custom Molded Orthotics Provider

    A stomp box is used to make custom molded orthotics
    1. Hands-On Evaluation – Great custom-molded orthotics cannot be made without a face-to-face visit. There are a variety of providers who will send out a "Stomp Box," a piece of impression foam in a box. You are instructed to step into the box with each foot and send the resulting impressions off to make your orthotics. Unfortunately, without an experienced provider to position your foot as it makes the impression, your dysfunctional biomechanics may be built into the design of your orthotics.
    2. Type of Provider – A certified Pedorthist (C. Ped) diagnoses foot problems and prescribes orthotics. C. Peds often have the most hands-on experience with orthotics and functional biomechanics. Podiatrists are doctors who specialize in feet. They can diagnose foot problems and prescribe orthotics as well as perform surgery to fix problems.  A chiropractor is involved with the diagnosis and treatment of musculoskeletal disorders. Some provide custom orthotics.
    3. Years of Experience – Getting custom orthotics right is a challenging mix of art and science. It takes years of experience to learn the subtleties of making custom orthotics that meet both the functional and the comfort needs of the client. Choosing someone with a long history of success will increase the chances that the orthotics will be right – the first time.
    4. Hands-On Fabrication – Some practitioners evaluate a client's needs, then transmit the info to a lab that creates the actual orthotics. While this system can work, having the orthotics made at the place of the diagnoses prevents errors in communication and insures that modifications can be easily made if necessary.

    If you’ve decided that custom orthotics aren’t right for you, or that it makes sense to try over-the-counter insoles first, you’ll find you have a lot of choices.

    How To Choose Over-The-Counter Insoles

    The most important thing to consider is that not all over-the-counter inserts are made alike. Their quality and effectiveness varies greatly. And understanding the difference between inserts and insoles is helpful.

    Think about arch supports, feet, and walking the way you think about eyeglasses, eyes, and seeing. Most people (especially as they get older) benefit from some kind of corrective lenses to improve vision. In the same way, most people benefit from arch supports to optimize their stride.

    Shoe Inserts

    Depending on your eyesight, you might need a specific prescription or a simple pair of generic reading glasses found at the drugstore. Generic reading glasses are similar to shoe inserts that don't have much variety in sizing and fit.

    The basic cushioned inserts you find at the drugstore may be cheap, but they lack any structure and they won't provide the needed support.

    Shoe Insoles

    If you require more than drugstore reading glasses, you will need an eye exam, after which you get a prescription for lenses. The prescription is written in a detailed scale because added precision enables better sight.

    Like with glasses, having precision sizing with insoles enables a higher level of support and better biomechanics. For many people, an eye exam and simple prescription is enough, much like aftermarket insoles with precision sizing works for most people in relation to arch support.

    There are different types of insoles:

    When you’re considering over-the-counter insoles as an alternative to custom orthotics, look for proper fitting medical-grade arch supports that provide comfort as well as support. They should control overpronation, prevent and relieve foot pain, and most importantly, support your active life.

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    What Is Overpronation And Can Overpronation Insoles Help?

    You've probably heard the term "overpronation" before, and even if you already know what it is, you might not know why it happens or how to fix it. It's a lot easier than you think.

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    What Is Over Pronation?

    Pronation is a complex motion that takes place at several joints of the foot, resulting in the inward rolling of the foot as a step is taken. About 60% of the population pronates more than they need to in order to function properly.

    Overpronation occurs when the foot rolls too far inward before you push off to move forward. When this inward rolling motion goes too far, the alignment of the foot is compromised and there is a loss of efficiency in every step you take.

    Basic Foot Biomechanics

    To explain overpronation, you have to understand what happens to your feet when you take a step. We've broken down the process step-by-step:


    1. Heel strike happens on the outside of your heel. (Yes, this is normal.)
    2. The weight distribution moves to the center of your heel before progressing forward along the outside of your foot.
    3. When the weight reaches the ball of your foot, it moves across the ball towards the inside of your foot. This inward rolling motion is pronation – a valuable shock-absorbing feature of the foot.
    4. As the foot rolls inward, the ankle, knee and hip follow suit.
    5. For an efficient stride, push-off happens when your weight is just behind the second toe.
    6. Unfortunately, most people continue to roll their feet to the inside. This is overpronation.
    When your foot overpronates, the arch flattens, the toes pivot toward the outside and the ankle, knee and hip rotate inward. None of these motions are positive for your body.
    1. When the arch flattens, it puts stress on the connective tissue between your heel and the ball of your foot, causing fatigue and in some cases plantar fasciitis. In addition, your foot now has a lower instep and tends to slide forward in your shoes.
    2. As the toes pivot outward, the bones of the foot are no longer in a stable position and forward motion is much less efficient.
    3. The inward roll of the ankle, knee and hip can cause discomfort and alignment problems, especially if you are on your feet all day.
    There is an excellent control point to limit pronation for an efficient, comfortable stride. There is a "shelf" on the inside of the heel bone, towards the rear of the arch. This is the calcaneal shelf. Support beneath it is the best way to limit pronation.
    1. By providing support under the Calcaneal shelf, pronation can be controlled.
    2. Spreading the support forward into the arch makes the support much more comfortable.
    3. The most effective support is firm, with a spring-like feeling. An accurate fit is necessary to insure that this firm support is matched to the contours of your foot.

    How To Tell If Your An Overpronator

    Dr. Avanti Redkar, DPM admits that "overpronation isn't always obvious. Most people take the way they walk or run for granted. You can always have your gait analyzed by a foot and ankle specialist, but there are some ways to tell at home."

    First, it helps to know your arch height. Overpronators typically have flat feet and flexible arches. Second, it helps to listen to what your shoes are telling you. If you look at the bottom of your shoes, and see a lot of wear on the heel and ball of the foot leading into the big toe, you're probably an overpronator. 

    If you decide to see a specialist, here's what you can expect according to Dr. Hamid Sadri. "An evaluation of the pelvis, hip, knee, ankle and foot ranges of motion along with at least a lunge and a squat test to examine other elements of motion such as force production, force dissipation, proprioception, stability and balance."

    The Negative Effects of Overpronation

    In Podiatry Today, David Levine, DPM, CPed writes, "Everyone pronates and everyone supinates. It is a matter of how much and when each occurs that determines whether lower extremity problems will occur."

    If problems do occur as a result of overpronation, they range from not terribly noticeable to seriously uncomfortable. They include:

    1. Arch Collapse - As the arch flattens, your foot slides forward in your shoe. This causes friction resulting in blister and/or calluses. When hiking, your toes can hit the end of your shoes causing blackened toe nails and no small amount of discomfort.
    2. Plantar Fasciitis - Constant elongation of the arch puts stress on the connective tissue (plantar fascia) on the bottom of your foot. Plantar fasciitis affects 1 in 10 people at some point in their life and can be excruciatingly painful.
    3. Inefficiency - We all want to get the most out of our efforts. If each step you take is inefficient because your not properly aligned, you're wasting your energy. 
    4. Pain in the Kinetic Chain - Your kinetic chain is the series of joints that are affected by a particular motion. The rolling in of your foot, twists your ankles, knees, hips and back - all in ways that may cause pain or overuse injuries.

    How Do I Correct Overpronation?

    Correcting for overpronation is easier than you might think. If you're a runner, you'll want to look for a shoe with lots of stability and support. Finding the right pair is easier than ever. You'll also want to add insoles for overpronation to your shoes to make sure your arch has the firm support it needs.

    The editors at Runner's World point out, "not so long ago, stability in a running shoe meant a maximalist approach to overcorrecting pronators' strides. But stability shoes now take a less severe approach...Instead of "fixing" your gait, shoes these days are designed to improve your comfort on your runs and reduce your risk for injuries." 

    What Are The Best Overpronation Insoles?

    Pronation is a powerful force. Firm support from overpronation insoles is necessary for proper alignment. You have two options to consider - custom orthotics and non-prescription insoles with firm arch support.

    1. Custom orthotics - Ideal for people with complicated, clinical issues, custom orthotics are expensive. Do you research to make sure that custom orthotics for overpronation are necessary for you and choose a orthotic supplier carefully.
    2. Non-prescription insoles - Beware when you're shopping for insoles for overpronation as many over-the-counter options don't provide the firm support required to limit pronation. One-size-fits all options are also problematic as your arch is unique. The best insoles for overpronation will provide a firm arch support and a choice of multiple arch height options.

    Overpronation is a common issue with an easy solution. By adding overpronation insoles to your footwear, you'll improve your alignment and the efficiency of every step you take.

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    Best Supination Insoles For Underpronation Relief

    Having high arches can be a pain – literally. Foot shape affects pressure on other joints and, if not properly cared for, high arches can lead to knee and hip problems. Another thing affecting people with high arches? Supination.

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    Are High Arches The Exact Same Thing As Supination?

    No. Supination is also known as underpronation, which occurs when the foot doesn’t properly roll inward upon landing. As part of a normal stride, the foot will roll slightly inward after the heel hits the ground (pronation). This cushions the impact and helps you adapt to uneven surface.

    A normal foot pattern rolls inward at around 15% during your stride. When you supinate, your foot rolls in under 15%. Most of your body weight lands on the outer edges of each foot. Conversely, overpronation is defined as the inward rolling of the foot over 15%.

    Supination can put too much pressure on the Iliotibial (IT) band. Some people who supinate will experience knee pain or Achilles tendinitis. Underpronation is less common than overpronation, with up to 10% of people in the U.S. supinating. Those with severe supination are prone to inversion ankle sprains, heel spurs and stress fractures.

    While supination is not the same thing as high arches, it is a condition often caused by them. Not all people with high arches will supinate, but many are at risk. Athletes with high arches should be particularly careful in order to avoid these injuries.

    Can Someone Have Very High Arches And Still Pronate?

    Yes. Though people with high arches often underpronate, that is not always the case. People with high arches can pronate and even overpronate.

    Who Underpronates and Why?

    There are three main characteristics of people who underpronate or supinate.

    1. People who underpronate are often heel strikers – their heel hits the ground first. Then, the foot rolls out, and the force of their body weight is unevenly distributed to the outer edge of the foot
    2. Underpronation is more common in, but not exclusive to, people with high arches. High arches are often more rigid and less flexible. When your foot hits the ground, your arches don't sufficiently flex to accommodate dynamic movement.The force of the stride then pushes the weight towards the outside of the foot.
    3. Tight calves and Achilles tendons magnify the movement of supination. The tightness in the back of the heel and up the leg pulls your foot outwards when it lands. If tight calves and Achilles tendons are the cause of your supination, stretching is an easy solution.

    If you're experiencing these symptoms and the associated pain, there is an easy way to get relief. A quality pair of supination insoles can help.

    I Have High Arches, How Can I Tell If I Supinate?

    According to Runner’s World, there's an easy, informal test you can do to see if you supinate. Simply take a well-worn pair of sneakers and place them on a flat surface. Look at the shoes from behind. Do they stand straight? Or do they lean to the outer edges? If they lean dramatically to the edges, there is a high chance that you supinate. See a doctor for confirmation.

    Injuries Associated with Supination

    Like any biomechanical irregularity, underpronation can cause specific injuries. Common injuries associated with supination include:

    Neutral Shoes and Shock Absorption

    Shoe shopping can be difficult for people with high arches. If you underpronate, you need to find shoes that accommodate your gait. Because the body weight is not distributed evenly across the foot, forces of impact remain concentrated on the outside of the shoe. When you push off, your smaller toes do most of the work. This is both inefficient and lessens your ability to properly absorb the impact of your stride. Most specialists recommend finding neutral shoes with extra cushion or shock absorption qualities.

    Other characteristics you should look for in a shoe include:

    Best Shoes For High Arches And Supination

    There are many brands and styles that work well for people with high arches. To find the best shoes for high arches and supination, it's important to try several pairs on in a store before you buy. 

    New Balance

    New Balance has great running and walking shoes for people with high arches. Many of their styles provide extra cushioning, which is important for shock absorption that high-arched feet typically don’t have on their own. New Balance’s cushion features their "ABZORB" technology, a proprietary blend of rubber and foam materials that is very lightweight and can endure many miles of wear.

    Birkenstock

    Birkenstock is a well-known comfort shoe brand. Their sandals provide arch support with a molded footbed. For many, their signature footbed helps redirect and balance pressure. Make sure to try out the sandals in the store. Birkenstock's firm one-size-fits-all footbed is heaven for some but too uncomfortable for others.

    Chaco

    Developed by the founder of Tread Labs, Chaco has been making sandals with robust arch supports for decades. Originally designed for river guides, Chaco now offers many styles for off the river too. The original Z/series of sandals has very good arch support, however some of the more recent models have less-pronounced support. Very durable, Chaco sandals will last for years. 

    Saucony

    Saucony also makes great running shoes for those with high arches. Like New Balance, they provide amazing comfort and cushioning. Their PWRGRID+ technology claims to provide 20% more cushion without adding bulk or weight. A selection of their shoes are designed for daily use for neutral or supinated feet.

    The Best Insoles For Supination

    Orthotics for supination can also be a great solution to help reduce underpronation, particularly if biomechanics (and not tight calf muscles) are the cause of underpronation. As most shoes do not sufficiently support high arches, they won't correct the underlying cause of your underpronation.

    Because high arches are closely correlated to supination, you need to find supination insoles that will support the arch during your stride. By supporting your arch, you prevent your foot from rolling out.

    An insole with a deep heel cup will stabilize your heel and acts as extra shock absorption. With the proper insoles for supination correction, you can prevent injury and develop a more efficient stride.

    Are High Arches Passed Down Genetically?

    Sometimes. There are many causes of high arches. People can be born with high arches or develop them later in life. Causes include:

    Do High Arches Change With Age?

    There are a few factors, including age, that can cause fallen arches in people who have very high arches. These include:

    A series of tendons and ligaments that attach leg muscles to the foot create the foot’s arch. When these tendons are injured or otherwise loosened, arches begin to fall. This change in foot shape can be painful. Feet will tire easily and put even more stress on knees and ankles.

    To prevent arches from falling, make sure you wear high arch support insoles and maintain a healthy lifestyle.

    The Bottom Line

    Millions of people in the U.S. have high arches. With proper foot care and footwear like shoe inserts for supination correction, you can participate in most sports and activities pain-free. Being proactive by listening to your body and being aware of any discomfort or changes can help you prevent injury.

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    Bursitis Foot Pain Treatment: How To Get Relief And Stay Foot Pain Free

    More common than you might think, bursitis foot pain is caused by a number of factors. Some are very easy to address while others take a little more effort. But, getting relief from bursitis in your foot will have a big impact on your daily activities and quality of life. Learn more about what causes foot bursitis and how you can treat it.

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    Your foot is equipped with its own cushioning system that helps reduce the impact of walking and running on hard surfaces. Orthopedic Surgeon and Sports Medicine Specialist, Dr. Jeffrey Tedder, explains, "The bursa is a fluid-filled sac that’s located around joints to help them function. When these are inflamed or irritated, it’s called bursitis, and can decrease the amount of motion in the joint. This most commonly occurs in the heel, hip, knee, shoulder, and thumb."

    If the bursa in your foot becomes inflamed from overuse or injury, you may experience pain, swelling, or bruising in your heel, arch, or metatarsal area (ball of foot). 

    Common Symptoms of Foot Bursitis

    Common areas impacted by bursitis

    What Causes Bursitis?

    There are many things that can contribute to the development of bursitis foot pain. The most common cause of foot bursitis is the overuse or improper use of your foot’s muscles, bones, and tendons. Other common causes include the use of ill-fitting footwear and other biomechanical issues in your feet.

    Overuse Injuries Can Cause Bursitis In Foot

    Repetitive activities like jumping, dancing, power walking, or running can lead to foot bursitis. This can be especially true if you don’t take the time to stretch and warm-up your body—especially your feet—prior to exercise. Always spend time stretching your body and feet prior to athletic activities to ensure your muscles and tendons are warmed up, with proper blood flow and oxygen.

    If you are not accustomed to strenuous activity, take things slowly when you first begin a new exercise regimen. While you may (and should) be enthusiastic about your healthy new routine, your body needs time to adjust to the new demands. Pacing yourself in the beginning is an important step in becoming fit and avoiding injury.

    Footwear

    Ill-fitting footwear is another culprit when it comes to bursitis. If you regularly run, jump, dance, or spend many hours at a time on your feet, be sure your footwear has:

    Biomechanical Irregularities In The Foot

    Sometimes, bursitis foot pain can be caused by an existing foot irregularity, like Haglund’s deformity—a bone spur that can develop on the heel. The bursa can become inflamed as it tries to cushion the heel and the spur from impact.

    Other conditions that may cause or contribute to bursitis include problems with thyroid levels, infections, arthritis, or diabetes. These medical conditions can be life-threatening if left untreated, so it is important to see a physician if you have symptoms of bursitis in your foot.

    How is Bursitis of the Foot Diagnosed?

    If your doctor suspects you may have bursitis, they will examine your foot and ask you about the symptoms, how often you exercise, when the pain began, and your medical history. To rule out an underlying illness, injury, deformity, or bone fracture, your doctor may order an X-ray, ultrasound, MRI, or blood work. If they suspect an infection, they may remove some fluid from the bursa to test it for gout.

    Note that bursitis foot pain is often confused with other foot conditions, including: plantar fasciitis, a heel spur, Achilles tendinopathy, Sever’s Disease, a trapped nerve, Haglunds’ deformity, or a stone bruise. Depending on the condition your doctor finds, they may refer you to a rheumatologist, orthopedist, or podiatrist.

    What Is The Treatment For Foot Bursitis?

    The good news about foot bursitis is that it can be easily managed with proper and prompt attention. A few common bursitis foot treatment options include rest, ice, elevation, stretching, a change in shoes, and adding insoles to your footwear.

    How Do Insoles Help Bursitis Foot Pain?

    Because footwear manufacturers design their shoes to fit the widest range of people, the vast majority of shoes have minimal arch support. Footwear makers do this because they expect that people who need additional arch support will add an insole. Insoles with firm arch support can help relieve bursitis foot pain.

    You'll get the most out of your footwear by replacing the factory inserts that come in your shoes with firm, supportive insoles. To get the most out of the arch support insoles you're adding to your shoes, look for ones that:

    Podiatrists recommend firm support to improve alignment, control pronation, and deliver long-term comfort. Insoles are a small investment in good lifelong foot health. Add them to your footwear and reap the benefits.

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