Better Orthotics: Custom or Over the Counter?

Nov 10, 2020

It’s always great to have options. 

At Freeland Foot & Ankle Clinic, we provide a wide variety of treatment methods for our patients, because their conditions and individual needs are rarely similar from person to person. What may be best for one person might not be ideal for someone else.

And that’s the type of consideration we need to make when evaluating custom orthotics vs. mass-produced arch supports. While we use both at our office, that doesn’t mean they will work equally well for you.

Why Use Orthotics in the First Place?

Orthotics are devices used to provide cushioning and support to the feet in areas where they are needed. They can help redistribute weight across the foot and change the way that the feet absorbs forces from walking, running, jumping, and other movements.

Orthotics might be recommended for a number of different conditions and circumstances, including (but certainly not limited to):

In many cases, orthotics are meant not only to help relieve pain and discomfort, but also prevent future injuries and incidents from occurring. They are meant as a long-term form of management (in other words, you will typically need to keep using them to prevent problems from returning).

Orthotics Custom vs Store Blog Graphic Dailey 2020_10_26

What’s the Difference between Custom Orthotics and OTC Orthotics?

There are several!

At the core level, the main difference is that custom orthotics are prescribed specifically for the shape and needs of a patient’s feet, providing precise levels of cushioning and corrective support exactly where they are needed. We accomplish this casting a foam or plaster mold of your feet. The prescription is made according to these molds, and then shipped to a lab for precise creation.

Over-the-counter inserts, on the other hand, come in a number of shapes and styles, but still remain relatively “one size fits all” by comparison.

There are more differences as you dig down, however:

  • Custom orthotics are built to last longer. Whereas most OTC inserts will last only a few months before degrading, custom orthotics are built from more durable materials. They will generally last at least a year, depending on how they are used, and can even last 5 years or more with proper care and maintenance.
  • Custom orthotics can be adjusted as your needs change. Your feet and needs don’t always stay the same forever, and your custom orthotics don’t need to, either. We can adjust your orthotics if changes such as a new job, higher activity levels, or shifts in weight have altered the needs of your feet. By checking in periodically, we can ensure your custom orthotics are working as they should and doing everything you need them to do.
  • Custom orthotics are more expensive. Customization and durability do come with added cost. There is no getting around that. However, many insurance plans do cover custom orthotics – some at a rate of one pair per year! If your current custom orthotics are still going strong after a year of use and don’t need to be replaced, you can still get another pair made to have ready in another pair of shoes. You’ll reduce the need to swap inserts and extend the life of both pairs.
professional physician offering orthopaedic insoles in special shop

Each Type of Orthotic Has its Purpose

Some of the benefits that custom orthotics hold over store-bought inserts are substantial, but does that mean custom orthotics should always be the best choice for every patient? Not necessarily so!

There are certainly cases where an over-the-counter insert will be suitable for a patient’s needs. If your condition is relatively mild and requires a limited amount of support, then a standard insert might very well be enough.

However, that does not mean we recommend just going to the store and buying the first arch supports you see. It’s still important that you receive the best pre-made orthotics for your particular needs, and we strongly recommend seeing us for that purpose.

In addition to prescribing custom orthotics, we also carry lines of trusted, pre-made, non-prescription inserts. We can not only help you determine what arch supports will be best for your particular situation, but make minor changes and adjustments to make sure they fit properly, too.

Find the Right Course of Treatment at Freeland Foot & Ankle

Whether custom orthotics, pre-made inserts, or another form of treatment entirely is the best option for your foot and ankle needs, our goal will always be to make the best possible recommendations for you, based on a thorough evaluation and a firm understanding of what your feet truly require.

Call our office at (989) 695-6788 to schedule an appointment and take the first step toward a lasting solution.

And if you prefer to hold a consultation with Dr. Dailey remotely via telemedicine, we can do that! Learn more about our telemedicine services and do not be afraid to request them. We will be happy to accommodate you as best we can.

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