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Coaches Blog

Over-the-Counter Orthotics for Athletes

Orthotics is a term used to describe shoe inserts designed to provide enhanced support and/or cushioning. There are Custom Orthotics, Over-the-Counter (OTC) Orthotics, and Shoe Inserts. Most shoes don't come with enough support or cushion needed to keep our feet, ankles, and legs healthy and happy. This is especially true for dressy and casual footwear but can also be the case for good technical athletic shoes.


The insole, the part of the shoe your foot actually makes contact with, is usually a soft, thin piece of foam. It's designed to adapt to each person rather than to provide support. Think of driving a car with great suspension and tires, but the seat is made of hard plastic.


Those factory insoles in our shoes also don't last very long, so in a short time, our feet end up sitting on a flat and unsupportive surface.


Custom Orthotics are specially designed to match the contours of YOUR feet and support YOUR individual biomechanical needs. They are made by podiatrists and other professionals after conducting a complete evaluation of your feet, ankles, and legs.


Prescription orthotics aren't always necessary. Over-the-counter orthotics have come a long way in recent years. Your medical advisor may suggest you try OTC orthotics first.


They can be costly, ranging from $400- $800, and may or may not be covered by your insurance. However, depending on your situation, they may be necessary, especially if you significantly over-pronate, under-pronate, over-supinate, are dealing with significant leg-length differences, or are affected by a long-term injury or chronic illness such as arthritis.


Shoe inserts, which you find in the grocery store, big-box mart, or local pharmacy, can be helpful. They will cushion your feet, provide comfort, and offer limited support to your arches. They are not usually recommended for significant biomechanical foot problems or to cure longstanding foot issues. They will range from $12-$20.


Over-the-Counter orthotics can provide structure, like prescription orthotics, and cushion, like shoe inserts. They will range from $50-$65. There are quite a few to choose from, but the lead four over-the-counter orthotics are listed below:

  • Superfeet: Created in 1977, this was the first over-the-counter orthotic. Superfeet is probably the most well-known OTC orthotic on the market. With nearly two dozen designs, Superfeet has models for hiking, running, skiing, hockey, or daily wear. Superfeet accomplished its goal of providing an affordable option for prescription orthotics. They even make a thin version for dress shoes. Made and designed in the Pacific Northwest, Superfeet also provides a wealth of information for keeping your feet happy.

  • Sole: A Canadian company founded in 2001. Sole makes a unique, heat-moldable product so you can customize the fit. Their insoles have been very popular in cycling shoes and ski boots.

  • Cadence: Cadence was made by a physical therapist looking for a more cushioned insole to help with plantar fasciitis. A cushioned layer on top of a semi-rigid plastic plate provides a nice blend of cushion with legitimate support.

  • CurreX: Designed by German sports scientists. One of the more lightweight insoles, CurreX is an excellent option for replacing the insole that came with the shoe if you're looking for just a bit more support.

If your medical professional suggests you consider an OTC orthotic, or if you're curious, understand it may be a trial and error process. You might go through two or three different insoles before you find the right one. In all cases, ask for a referral to a trusted source like your local specialty running store.


If you'd like to learn more, here is a brief history of orthotics.

 

Coach Jillian is a professional triathlete who has competed in races around the world. She specialized in non-drafting Olympic distance races, specifically the Lifetime Fitness Series and 5150 series, which qualified her for the prestigious Hy-Vee Triathlon from 2011-2014. Jillian graduated from the University of Missouri with a nutrition and fitness degree and is now an ACSM Certified Personal Trainer. She continues to race as a Guide for Elizabeth Baker on the USAT Para National Team. She can be reached at Jillian@TeamMPI.com

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