As someone who has had very high arches all her life, I should have been wearing orthotic insoles from the beginning. But I wasn't. Only when I joined Tread Labs did I try on orthotic insoles and understand just what a difference they make in foot support. I found that the Stride's high arch model worked perfectly. My best friend is the complete opposite with extremely flat feet. She was shocked how much the Stride insole improved comfort.
How could one insole provide optimal support for such different foot types? The answer is in the arch. No matter your arch height, there's an arch-support insole that can help both relieve and prevent many types of foot pain.
When seeking out the best insoles for flat feet or high arches, you of course need to know your arch height. If you don't already know, there's an easy way to find out.
The Footprint, Arch-Height Wet Test
Use this very easy footprint test to determine your arch height.
- Fill your tub with a small layer of water.
- Take two pieces of cardboard or heavy paper and set them on the floor.
- Step into the tub with one foot to wet the bottom of your foot.
- Lift up your foot and step onto one cardboard piece. Make sure to stand with your full weight on that one foot.
- Step off the cardboard and look down.
- Determine your arch height. If you see your entire footprint, you have a LOW arch. If you see half of your arch—like the typical "footprint in the sand" image—you have a MODERATE (normal) arch. If you see just your heel, the ball of your foot and almost none of your arch, you have a HIGH arch.
- Repeat steps 3 through 6 for the second foot to confirm that your arch heights are the same on both feet.
See examples of what the various footprints look like here:
Determining your arch height is just the first step to understanding how insoles help each type of arch.
The Best Insoles for Flat Feet - How Arch Support Insoles Help
When you have flat feet, the entire bottom of your foot (the sole) touches the ground when you’re standing. Flat feet often occur when your arches don’t develop properly as you’re growing up or if you overpronate. They can also develop as you age or after a foot injury. For women, pregnancy can cause flat feet.
For some people, flat feet don’t cause any difficulties. But for others, they can cause:
- Pain in the heel (plantar fasciitis) or in the arch
- Swelling along the inside of your ankle
- Knee and hip problems
The best insoles for flat feet will fully support your arch and stabilize your heel to concentrate the fatty pad underneath your heel bone. This will both prevent overpronation and provide firm support. Typically, the best insoles for flat feet will have a low but supportive arch. However, you should try different heights to determine which one will adequately support your feet.
Moderate Arches — You Still Need Support
If your arch is neither low nor high, you have the most common foot type — moderate. Hooray, you're normal! But that doesn't mean you don't need arch support. In fact, it's the opposite. Your feet still need support to prevent overpronation. Plus, all feet benefit from support when you're exercising. Runners, walkers, and cyclists particularly need additional arch support.
High Arch — Support is Here
High arches are usually inherited and you have them from birth. If you develop a high arch in just one foot over the years or see just one high arch when you look at your footprint instead of two, please check with your doctor. The difference could be a neurological issue.
Typically, high arches alone don’t cause pain, but they can result in underpronation (more commonly known as supination). As a supinator, your arches don't collapse enough to absorb the shock of walking/running, which puts stress on your feet and can lead to:
- Plantar fasciitis
- Sore knees
- Sore hips
Insoles provide support for high arches and help prevent supination. Tread Labs Stride offers one of the best insoles for high arches. It fully supports the arch and stabilizes the heel with a deep heel cup, which concentrates the fatty pad underneath your heel bone.
Note: If you have high arches, you may think that you need the highest possible insole, but you should try a couple of arch heights in your insoles to see which one will support your feet best.
They Key to Happy Feet is in the Arch
Supportive arch support insoles can dramatically increase foot comfort and improve sports performance. By preventing overpronation, they can reduce foot fatigue, alleviate or prevent plantar fasciitis, and increase stride length. For maximum benefit, the insole must fit well and be durable enough to maintain its shape, even after hard use. The best arch support insoles are the ones that offer firm support and a perfect fit. We'll start at the heel.
- Pronounced Heel Cup – The insole should cup the heel effectively. There is a fatty pad under the heel bone that helps cushion each step. Concentrating the pad beneath the heel is a great way to optimize the body's natural shock absorbing ability. For best results, look for a deeper heel cup.
- Rear Foot Support – It is the rear third of the arch that is most important for pronation control. The "calcaneal shelf" is the control point (and where the plantar fascia connects to the bone). Properly supporting this structure does wonders for comfort. Many times the arch of an orthotic will feel especially supportive in this area.
- Arch Extension – Without support under the rest of the arch, pressure points can build up under the rear of the foot. The forward section of the arch should also feel support. Ideally the support will feel like a broad ramp – smooth and uniform.
- Firm and Dynamic Support – Insoles that deflect easily beneath your feet will not provide long-term comfort. At the same time, the arch support insole must flex like a spring to work in concert with the foot. You should be able to press the arch down, but not easily.
- Volume Appropriate – Ideally there is an insole in your shoe that can be taken out to make room for your new arch supports. After-market insoles should not make your shoes tight enough that your feet feel constricted. If this is the case, look for the lowest profile inserts or more appropriate footwear.
The absolute best way to get a great fit is to try arch support insoles with a variety of contours and configurations. Though it may take a few days to insure that your choice is correct, your feet (and legs, hips and back) will tell you when you've made the right choice.