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Should You Get Running Orthotics?

If your feet have been hurting and you’ve been wondering about getting orthotics to make your runs more comfortable, this is the article for you. We’ll be discussing custom orthotics—not over-the-counter options—and whether or not you should buy a pair.

What are Orthotics?

Ror the purpose of running, “orthotics” refers to custom inserts or insoles made specifically for an individual by a podiatrist or foot specialist. In other words, orthotics are shoe inserts customized to fit your feet.

What Do Orthotics Do?

Custom orthotics are designed to correct biomechnical issues with your feet and running stride. Since they are made specifically for you, they address your specific problems. Pain caused by arthritis, bursitis, diabetes, flat feet, and plantar fasciitis can all be helped with orthotics.

How Are Orthotics Made?

The process starts with your podiatrist giving you a thorough exam. Expect to walk or run under observation. Your podiatrist will analyze how different parts of your body—from your feet to your hips—move.

If it’s decided that you need orthotics, your doctor will scan or make a mold of your feet. Orthotics can be made into rigid or soft varieties depending on the diagnosis. 

Rigid orthotics, or functional orthotics, are often made from plastic. They are designed to deal with foot pain and be worn in walking shoes or other shoes with closed toes.

Soft orthotics, also called accommodative orthotics, are made from more pliable materials. They are cushiony and are sometimes worn with prescription footwear.

How Long Should Runners Wear Orthotics?

This can vary greatly, but if they solve your foot or leg problems, then you’ll probably want to wear orthotics as long as you run. Your podiatrist will let you know if you can be weaned off the inserts as your pain disappears.

When Should Runners Think About Getting Orthotics?

Runners can get foot pain from a number of places. Poorly fitted shoes is one of the first places to look. Over-training is another common culprit. If you have considered causes like these but still have significant foot pain, then think about orthotics. They might not be your first option, but you should be thinking about them.

When Your Pain Interferes With Running

Foot and/or leg pain can be a serious roadblock to your running goals. Orthotics might be able to help you. However, if you are injury-free and running consistently, you don’t need orthotics or inserts. Sure, running stores and podiatrists might tell you differently. But if you don’t have a problem, there’s no need to go searching for a solution.

If you are dealing with heel pain or plantar fasciitis, orthotics can be a way to help cushion, support, and realign the damaged tissue. It’s an easy way to help you feel less pain and give the tissue an opportunity to heal.

When Other Options Haven’t Worked

Custom orthotics might be easy, but they are expensive. So they likely shouldn’t be your first option – there are cheaper solutions out there. But if you’ve tried warming up and stretching (if it’s just been a temporary pain in your feet), or purchasing over-the-counter inserts and other products, and there hasn’t been a change in pain, you might need to make the investment.

They typically cost between $300 to $500. The good news is that they last you between 1-5 years depending. Exactly how long depends on the material they are made from and frequency of use. Depending on your health insurance, they may or may not be covered.

If orthotics are covered by your insurance, they might be worth a try. If you’re paying out of pocket, give it a bit more thought.

You’ll also want to remember that orthotics do take time to create—sometimes up to a month. You shouldn’t be expecting to walk out of your podiatrist’s office with a pair that you can put on tomorrow.  

Additionally, orthotics aren’t race-ready right out of the box. Even after you wait a month to get them, you have to break them in for a week or two. Plan on first introducing them into your training. Your first race with orthotics should be a couple months away at least.

What Should I Try Before Getting Orthotics?

You have a variety of options to consider before purchasing orthotics. Experiment and see if any of them make a difference. First, check your shoes. If they are old, simply replace them. Think back to when your foot pain started. Is it relatively recent, and you didn’t have pain before? Then it could likely be due to old shoes.

Second, work on improving your running form. Having proper form will make your runs much more comfortable and help lower your potential for injuries. If you’re someone who heel strikes (and most people do), shifting to a forefoot landing can help.

Get fitted for the right type of shoe. This is rule #1 for dedicated runners. If you’ve been wearing a neutral shoe that doesn’t have a lot of cushioning or support, you might be well-served to purchase a stability shoe. Shoes vary so widely in their width, overall fit, level of cushioning, support, and more. If you’ve been thinking about getting another pair of running shoes anyway, this might solve your problem without orthotics.

Over-The-Counter Options

Finally, consider trying over-the-counter insoles or inserts and see if those make a difference. These are not customizable to you, but there are many different options to fit your needs. All you have to do with insoles is replace the current insoles in your shoes with a new pair designed to alleviate foot pain.

Inserts won’t last you as long as custom orthotics. Since they are mass-produced, you can usually expect to get 6-12 months of life out of them. At the very least, that’s enough time to determine if you need something more serious and made especially for you.

If all these options have failed, it’s time to see a podiatrist. It’s like if you have a cold. Your first option isn’t penicillin; it’s cough drops. Similarly, orthotics should be your last option because they are just like any other prescription.

Although they are more expensive, the one side benefit that orthotics have is that you’re getting a detailed medical evaluation of your feet and their problems, which should be most likely to address your foot pain.

What Questions Should I Ask My Podiatrist?

Asking questions improves the understanding and outcome of any medical procedure. Be sure to prepare some questions for your podiatrist as you decide on orthotics. First, you should ask if they customize over-the-counter inserts. This can cut the cost of prescription orthotics by 25 percent.

Next, ask if you can run with the orthotics. If your podiatrist says no (which isn’t uncommon), ask why. In some cases, you might want to change podiatrists. One who is also a runner can better understand your need to use orthotics while running.

You might also want to ask if they need to see your running shoes. An expensive orthotic that doesn’t fit your running shoes does you no good. And remember: once you receive the orthotic, don’t be afraid to ask for changes if they don’t fit or are uncomfortable. You’re paying a lot of money to help alleviate foot pain, so it’s important that they work. A good podiatrist will be happy to make adjustments so that the orthotics work as they should. 

A good way to know if orthotics are working for you is if they are comfortable. If they feel weird or uncomfortable, it might be that they won’t solve your foot pain.

Finally, ask your podiatrist to keep the cast they make of your foot. Doing so can allow your podiatrist to refurbish your orthotics every couple years. Otherwise, you’ll be ordering new ones. Refurbishing can save you some money if you keep the molds to use next time.

How Do I Put Orthotics in Running Shoes?

It can be a little tricky to put orthotics into running shoes. Some can be very bulky, and significantly alter the fit of some running shoes. In that case, you may need to get a shoe designed to fit an orthotic. Brooks Dyad and Saucony Echelon are two options.

Related: Best Running Shoes for Inserts and Orthotics

Again, you can always ask your podiatrist for options. If they are also a runner, they will be very focused on getting you something that works for running. They may even be able to recommend shoes for you as well.

Concluding Thoughts

In the end, it’s important to remember that orthotics may solve your problem, and they might not. Like any medical solution, orthotics are not guaranteed to work. It’s a good idea to keep your expectations low when you first get them. That way, if they work, they can exceed your expectations and you won’t end up disappointed!

Rachel Basinger
The Wired Runner