As comfortable and diverse as modern running shoes are, they don’t always match well with the nearly infinite variety of feet out there. We can’t really blame the show makers – there’s only so many models they can feasibly offer. Still, if you are investing $100 or more in a pair of running shoes, you want them to fit perfectly and work seamlessly with your unique feet. One common solution is to use orthotics. These removable insole inserts can modify your favorite running shoes to better match your feet, improving comfort and reducing injury risk. If you run with orthotics and insoles, or are thinking about it, you might be wondering how long they last. We’ll cover that in this article, discussing everything from what exactly orthotics and over-the-counter-insoles are, how long they last, and what to look for when they need to be replaced.
By the end, you’ll have a good idea of when you might need to replace your orthotics or insoles next. You can’t use inserts forever, but you can get good use out of them if you treat them well.
What are Orthotics?
In order to purchase orthotics, you’ll have to see a podiatrist. Orthotics are custom-made, prescription medical devices for specifically diagnosed foot problems. Orthotics are designed to help correct issues from standing, walking, or even running.
In addition, they are designed to assist with foot pain that you might experience from arthritis, plantar fasciitis, and bursitis. The right orthotic will improve function in your feet and help reduce the risk of injury. Orthotics may even correct foot deformities, providing an option other than surgery for conditions such as flat feet.
Visit your podiatrist to see if you’re a candidate for orthotics. They will do an examination of your feet. You’ll walk around and complete other activities to get an idea of how your feet hit the ground.
Your doctor may also take 3D images of your foot and/or recommend imaging like bone scans, MRIs, or X-rays. They’ll take all the information gathered to figure out what kind of orthotic to prescribe.
Types of Orthotics
There are two types of orthotics—rigid, or functional orthotics, and soft, or accommodative orthotics. The former is used with typical shoes like dress shoes or tennis shoes, and they will make your foot feel less pain. The latter is for taking pressure off, and you sometimes wear them with prescription shoes.
In the end, while orthotics will be more expensive, they come with many benefits. A custom fit and higher quality materials than insoles and inserts is just the start. And because orthotics are prescribed, you might even be able to get them covered, at least partially, by insurance.
What are Insoles and Inserts?
Insoles and inserts are two terms for the same thing. They can be purchased over the counter without a prescription, making them an easier option than orthotics. They can be purchased at pharmacies, running stores, and online.
Insoles are not custom-made for you, although you can find a wide variety of sizes and shapes to meet different needs. Inserts will likely make your feet more comfortable and may lessen pain, but they are not for fixing foot problems like orthotics are.
Typically, insoles will cover the entire length of your shoe, although some three-quarter length sizes are available for flexibility with different types of shoes. If you’re looking for some pain relief, but don’t want to spend tons of money on orthotics, insoles are a great option.
You simply replace the current insoles in your pair of shoes with the new insoles designed to alleviate foot pain, and you’re done.
How Long Do They Last?
Because over-the-counter inserts are not custom-made and are mass-produced, they don’t last as long as orthotics. On average, you can expect to get 6-12 months out of your inserts, but it could be sooner if you use them a lot, especially for running.
A good general rule of thumb is to replace your OTC inserts every other time you replace your running shoes.
Custom orthotics will last longer, but again there is the caveat of how much you use them and whether you use them for running. You can expect 1-5 years of use out of orthotics depending on the material that they’re made from.
If you have orthotics, your doctor will want to check in with you periodically. Twice-yearly appointments are a good idea to ensure they are solving your problem.
With inserts, yearly replacement is a good idea, whether you are running or not. As they wear out, they provide less benefit, just as shoes provide less cushioning and support as they age.
Tips on When to Replace Insoles and Orthotics
If the time is getting close for your inserts or orthotics to be replaced, here are a few things to think about.
First, check the appearance of the insole, whether it is over-the-counter or a prescribed orthotic. Is it discolored? Is the logo wearing off? If so, it is likely time to replace your insoles.
Next, look to see if there are cracks in and/or around the insole. This is another indication that your insoles are on their last days and it’s time to start looking for new ones.
If the insoles pass the above tests, give them a sniff. If you detect them emitting a bad smell, that can indicate bacteria or fungal growth. Time for a new pair. Be reasonable, here, though. They are, after all, components of running shoes, and even the cleanest running shoes don’t smell like roses. Off-odors for your inserts need to be distinguished from the normal condition of well-used athletic footwear.
If everything else has checked off, you’ll want to consider the structure. Have they flattened out from loss of cushioning? Have the insoles lost their stiffness and structure? If so, they are not functioning as they should, and you need a new pair.
Foot Problems or Pain
Finally, if the insoles visually seems fine, assess how they feel. Inserts and orthotics are designed to correct a foot issue. If that issue has returned, it could be a sign your insert is shot.
Another sign that you should get some new ones is if blisters, corns, and/or calluses appear on your feet. It’s a sign that the inserts aren’t working like they should, which you can easily fix with another pair.
Remember: orthotics and insoles will not be usable forever. Like any other bit of footwear, they are subject to normal wear and tear. Don’t feel bad about needing to replace them. Just make sure that you don’t wait too long before replacing. You could do harm to your feet, something runners definitely want to avoid!
Hopefully, this article answered your question about how long orthotics and insoles last and gave you some tips about when to replace them.
It’s a good question, and, while you’re not going to get a specific expiration date like you would with milk, for example, you can be pretty confident knowing roughly when you’ll need to replace them.
In short, probably six months from now for inserts, and over a year for orthotics.