Q & A about Orthotics and Shoe Inserts


At Long Island Foot & Ankle Group, PC, when we prescribe custom orthotics we often discover that many patients do not fully understand the difference between a prescription orthotic and a shoe insert that can be purchased at the drug store. To help clarify the differences and the right scenarios for each, we’d like to address the following frequently asked questions:

Q: Why do I need to pay for a custom orthotic when I can purchase an inexpensive one at the supermarket or pharmacy?

A: The orthotic devices that a foot doctor recommends are prescribed to deal with biomechanical and serious foot disorders such as plantar fasciitis, arthritis, tendinitis, diabetic ulcers and other medical conditions that cause foot, heel and ankle pain. If one of our foot and ankle surgeons, Dr. Russell Caprioli, Dr. Mary Ann Bilotti, Dr. John Haight or Dr. Marzana Mleczko, determines that a custom orthotic device is the appropriate treatment for your foot ailment, a physical or digital mold of your foot will be made. From this mold an orthotic device will be custom made that will only fit your foot. Over-the-counter foot inserts do not correct biomechanical problems.

Q: Are there different types of orthotics?

A: Yes. Custom orthotics fall into two categories: functional and accommodative. Functional orthotics are usually made of a semi-rigid material such as graphite or plastic. Their purpose is to control abnormal motion of the foot and also to treat overuse injuries such as tendinitis and shin splints. Accommodative orthotics are made of softer material and are made to provide cushioning and protection for sore areas or wounds. These would be used to ease pain and prevent further damage in the case of ulcers and calluses.

Q: What types of shoe inserts are available without a prescription?

A: Non-custom inserts are generally designed to provide some extra cushioning or shock absorption for more generalized aches and pains. There are arch supports, insoles, heel liners and foot cushions which can make walking and standing more comfortable if your pain is not severe and not linked to a specific biomechanical foot disorder.

Your podiatrist can best advise you if a shoe insert or custom orthotic device will relieve pain and aid in the correction and healing of a foot condition. If you have questions, contact our Valley Stream (516-825-4070) or Lake Success (516-327-0074) office.