Generally speaking, orthopedic insoles are trying to correct faulty foot mechanics. And by doing so they relieve the pressure on certain areas of your feet that are causing you discomfort.
This means you cannot choose just any insole. It has to be the right one for you, stimulating your feet in making the right movements, and providing support where you need it. That's why I had custom made insoles for years. Every two years I went to see a podiatrist, who made me a new pair. (Though nowadays you don't even have to leave the house anymore for a pair of custom insoles!)
However, when I started this experiment, I decided to stop wearing my custom made insoles for a while and start looking for an alternative. [In hindsight, I just think the podiatrist who made them wasn't very good; anyway, I didn't have the impression the insoles did a lot for my feet. After having tried other options however – like the posture control insoles mentioned below – I went back to wearing custom made insoles again. But this time made by a different podiatrist. And the ones he made, I was and am quite happy with.]
Soon I discovered that there are three kinds of people when it comes to their foot positioning: pronators, supinators, and people that hold a neutral position. Pronators are rolling their ankles inwards, while supinators are rolling their ankles outwards. Have a look at these pictures of pronation and supination, and you'll see immediately what I mean.
It's obvious that by pronating, you put added pressure on your big toe joints and thus can stimulate the forming of a bunion. But supinators apparently can do the same thing: have a look at this picture of me. I'm standing barefeet, and you can clearly see that my ankles are rolling outwards. So you'd think I'm not putting a lot of pressure on my big toe joints this way.
My shoes, however, tell a different story. As you'd expect, the outside of my heels show heavy wear and tear. But at the same time, the inner parts of my forefoot do as well! I've no idea how this is possible, but it looks like that with each step I'm starting off on the outside of my feet, and – while I'm rolling off my feet – shift my weight to the inside. I must be walking in a funny way; maybe I should tape myself to see what I'm actually doing!
To help you take care of your feet, there are lots of prefabricated insoles available on the market. Like gel insoles and cushioned insoles for example. They may be comfortable, but they're not specifically designed to correct wrong foot mechanics. Their main function is shock absorbtion and sometimes arch support. By doing so they prevent tired feet and possibly leg and back pain.
The prefabricated insoles I've worn a lot are posture control insoles. They have a rubber base, coated with a felt layer. The main difference between those insoles and the custom orthopedic insoles, is that they only have a small wedge under the big toe area. This is to stimulate your foot in making the right movement.
Another thing you could try to correct pronation or supination, are walk straight orthotics or Ortho Tech Posture Corrective Walk Straights. These are in fact no real orthopedic insoles, but just small wedges that you place under the heel to correct your posture.
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