In my last post I was pretty stern about the fact that not everyone who pronates needs orthotics. I went so far as to say that anyone who needs orthotics also needs to do strengthening exercises and wear proper footwear.

Enough lecturing. The good news is: Orthotics can really do wonders – as long as they are the appropriate kind.

The experts will tell you that all orthotics fall into one of two categories; they are either Accommodative (made out of soft material like foam) or Functional (consisting of hard plastic and rigid material).  The discussion about the differences and merits of these two types can be confusing and technical so I won’t bother talking about it…what you need to know is that some orthotics are intended to cushion the foot, and others are meant to control the foot.

Cushioning – fresher air ≠ cleaner house

Cushioned orthotics are soft and squishy and they conform to the shape of your foot – anything with gel or memory foam falls into this category. This is the kind of insoles that you will find if you walk into the arch support section of your local pharmacy. The reason stores stock this type of insert is because they are fun, they feel good, and it is really easy to get people to buy/wear them. Below is a picture of one of Dr. Scholl’s famous gel insoles. Don’t be fooled by the cool colors and designs – they really just add a bit of cushioning.

Cushioned orthotics do have their place – some people have painful areas in their feet that always get too much pressure (caused by a bone spur or some other abnormality). But they are not the solution for every situation.

An analogy comes to mind: think of another popular product often found in pharmacies: Air freshener. Everyone loves it right? It makes your house smell like a million bucks. Even when you fried onions for dinner or forgot to empty the trash can. But there are times when air freshener just won’t cut it – like when you have a stinky dog living in your house. If you just keep spraying the air freshener and you never wash the dog your underlying problem is never resolved. Your house stinks because something in it is dirty, not because you need to use more air freshener.

In the same way, well cushioned pronated feet are still pronated feet. You may have some extra bounce in your step, but if you haven’t fixed the pronation issue all you did was mask the symptoms.

This is a story about CONTROL….

Don’t worry, I am not about to break into a Janet Jackson song. But it’s true – Pronators need control! Trying to control pronation with something soft and squishy is like the foolish man building his house upon the sand. (oh dear, another song…) If you pronate badly enough to need arch support (in other words, you can’t control it with only good shoes and exercises) then don’t mess around; get yourself some solid orthotics.

If any of the following apply to you:  extreme pronator, abnormally high arch feet, incredibly flat feet, or if you are especially tough on your feet (like an athlete or someone who stands all day at work) then you are going to need custom orthotics. These can be made for you by a Podiatrist, Orthotist or Pedorthist. In order for them to be truly custom, they have to have been built around a mold of your feet and then specifically fitted to your individual footwear. Whoever makes them for you MUST watch you walk in them and be able to adjust them as needed. If they can’t do that, take your business somewhere else.

Everyone else who falls into the “normal-ish” foot category can probably get away with using over the counter arch supports to control their pronation.  I have two favorite brands for this situation:

#1: My top over-all choice for best performance and good price = Superfeet

I love Superfeet products. They are well made and have been around forever so they have been field tested and improved based on real life feedback. Order according to your shoe size if you are going to try to buy them for yourself…but it really is best to get them fitted to your arch length by a professional; pay a few extra bucks the first time and then you can always buy more pairs of the same size on your own later. They are really easy to find in a lot of sporting goods stores and all over the internet.

#2: my second choice, just because they are a little more expensive and harder to find = Zapz

These insoles are a product of the custom ski boot fitting industry and are distributed by the America’s Best Bootfitter’s . Zapz insoles have a deeper heel cup than the Superfeet products which adds a bit more motion control, they also feel a little bit softer underfoot because of specially placed pads under the heel and forefoot which absorb extra shock. Zappz can be slightly customized by heating them in the microwave, but they do tend to have a shorter lifespan as compared with Superfeet which means they have to be replaced about once every 6 months to 1 year.

Orthotics are a great tool which, when used correctly, can reduce your pronation and allow your legs to function in their proper alignment. The right pair can make a big difference. Build your house upon a rock, don’t waste your time with “air fresheners” – spend your money wisely on a good pair of either custom or quality OTC orthotics that provide stability. Don’t forget that even the best orthotics can’t do it all; it is still up to you to strengthen your weak muscles, stretch your overactive muscles and wear good quality shoes.  Walk Well.

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