What Type of Orthotics and Insoles Should You Buy?

5 min read

What Types of Orthotics Should You Buy

The reasons people turn to orthotics are as individual and unique as the people themselves. Whether you’re looking to relieve foot pain, add comfort and support to your arches, or enhance your sports performance, you’ll need to determine the best solution to meet your specific needs. Investing in your foot health can charge your active lifestyle, so you’ll want to take the time to research your options before you buy.

With so many insole products available, figuring out which one is right for you can mean falling down a rabbit hole of research and reviews. While it’s important to learn the different types of orthotics and how to find the best insoles to meet your needs, the process doesn’t have to be complicated. 

We’re here to help you choose the right shoe inserts.

Types of Orthotics and Insoles

 In this guide, we’ll cover:

Custom Orthotics

When some people want to solve their foot problems, their first instinct is to get the highest quality (and most expensive) option, assuming it is the best solution. But rushing out to get custom orthotics when you are dealing with foot issues isn’t necessarily the right move.

While this type of orthotic is the right choice for some people, it should not be considered the go-to option. According to Dr. Richard Braver, a sports podiatrist and Doctor of Podiatric Medicine (DPM),  orthotics and prescription orthotics should be the last option to solve foot pain—not the first.

Another consideration? The value of the product versus the price. While  custom orthotic prices fall usually within the range of $200-$800, they aren’t necessarily more effective than over-the-counter or semi-custom insoles. In fact, a  2009 study found “there is no evidence that custom orthoses are more effective than prefabricated ones.”

Heat-moldable Insoles

Heat-mold insoles provide a different way to custom fit insoles to your feet. Here’s how they work:

  1. Heat the insoles in the oven according to the directions provided. Different brands of heat-mold insoles will require different temperatures and timeframes. Some heat-mold insoles will actually have an indicator on the insoles themselves.
  2. Carefully place the insoles in your shoes. Step into your shoes and stand up straight for the amount of time noted in the instructions—usually a few minutes.
  3. Let the insoles cool so they can take the shape of your feet.

The heat-molding process is easy enough, but is it an effective way to get the arch support you need? The answer is usually no. Your should be wary of purchasing moldable inserts for two reasons:

  1. When insoles are molded exactly to your feet, they will inevitably have the same foot arch issues as your feet themselves. For example, if you overpronate, then this overpronated position will be molded into the insoles.
  2. These insoles must be soft enough to mold to your feet—which means they often are not firm enough to offer proper support.

When buying an orthotic product, you want one that is going to give you the pain-free support and comfort you need. Don’t settle for an insole that offers inadequate support.

Cushioned Insoles

Cushioned insoles offer immediate appeal—after all, extra cushioning sounds like it should mean extra comfort. But do these inserts offer the long-term foot pain relief you’re looking for?

Most often, they don’t, and in some cases, they can even exacerbate the pain you’re experiencing. The truth is, extra cushioning also means less support. Whatever cushy material the insoles are made of - gel, foam or otherwise - they’re not providing a strong foundation for your feet. If you need foot and arch support, be wary, as you definitely don’t want to exchange short-term comfort for long-term relief. 

Semi-custom Insoles

Semi-custom insoles offer the best of both worlds to people looking for relief from foot pain. Offering more individualized features than the generic, over-the-counter inserts you’ll find at the drugstore or Walmart, semi-custom insoles are also significantly less expensive than custom orthotics. 

By offering a range of insole options that address various needs and are designed for different arch heights, semi-custom insoles offer the fit and support people with foot problems need.

However, semi-custom inserts do vary greatly by manufacturer. As you’re shopping around, look for specific features, including:

  • Multiple arch height options - Insole arch height should not be one size fits all. The purpose of an orthotic insole is to support your arch properly, meaning it needs to provide full contact from one end of your arch to the other. A true semi-custom insert will offer a range of arch heights that provide a flawless fit for people with high arches, flat feet, and everything in between.
  • Medical-grade support - High-quality arch support comes from a well-constructed design. Molded arch supports should be spring-like, allowing you to walk more easily, as the insoles will flex with each step. This level of support is what makes semi-custom insoles as effective as custom orthotics.
  • Doctor approval - Insoles, whether semi-custom, over the counter, or otherwise, should not replace seeing your doctor or podiatrist if you have foot issues. However, when it comes to foot pain, doctors typically recommend firm support. When you’re looking for a semi-custom insole, make sure it offers the amount of support necessary to address your foot issues. 
  • Deep heel cups - Your foot has a fatty pad under the heel bone that helps cushion each step you take. An insole with a deep heel cup will boost your foot’s natural shock-absorption, providing for greater stability.
  • Durability and versatility - First, look for an orthotic brand that offers a lifetime guarantee. The company should stand by the durability of their product and have a clear and easy satisfaction policy. Second, find an insole that doesn’t require you to replace the entire insole after it has put in lots of hard miles in your shoe. An insole that lets you replace the top cover only will save you money in the long run. 

When you finally choose a pair of semi-custom insoles with these features, it will help relieve foot pain by: 

  • Stabilizing your steps
  • Improving your overall gait
  • Offering a comfortable, yet firm fit
  • Providing adequate arch support
  • Relieving stress points on your feet and heel
  • Correcting your foot and body alignment issues over time

Tread Labs insoles provide all of these features and a Million Mile Guarantee. Want proof? Check out what people who use our insoles say — read our customer reviews.

How to Choose the Best Insoles

Once you know what kind of inserts you want to buy, there are still other factors to consider. You’ll want to take into account: 

  • Your foot size
  • Type of shoes in which you’ll wear them
  • Sports you play
  • Specific foot problems you’re suffering from
  • Your arch height

Explore our  beginner’s guide on choosing shoe inserts to learn more.

Still have questions or need help picking the perfect insole? At Tread Labs, we’re happy to help. We’ll provide guidance on  which shoe inserts are the right fit for you.  Email or call us at (781) 435-0662.

Continue your research on orthotics by learning how they’re made.

Mark Paigen
Mark Paigen


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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.

Arch Height Chart

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