· By Casey Rutledge

The Difference Between Insoles and Orthotics

Let’s start from the beginning and make sure we get off on the right… foot. Insoles (and orthotics) are inserts that are placed in the bottom of your shoe to improve your overall in-shoe experience. While both of these serve similar purposes, they have key differences that are definitely worth understanding.

Insoles are designed to improve the comfort, fit, and feel of your shoes and can meet a wide range of desires for your feet. 

Orthotics are specifically designed to serve the purpose of correcting foot problems or addressing medical conditions and are prescribed by a doctor. 

Uses for Insoles
All shoes are going to fit and feel different. Insoles can be an easy solution for a more snug fit by filling some of the excess space from one pair of shoes to the next. 

In the colder months insoles provide an added layer of insulation to your shoe and help keep your feet warm in the elements. 

Insoles are also a great option for cushioning your feet and reducing impact in day to day activities and can keep your feet away from pain and fatigue.

Custom Orthotics and OTC Orthotics
Orthotics can be broken down into two categories; over the counter orthotics (OTC), and custom orthotics. Custom orthotics are designed for a one-for-one use case specifically addressing an individual’s foot needs. You might be prescribed orthotics to help with things like foot or back pain, structural misalignment, and plantar fasciitis.

OTC orthotics are found in places like your local pharmacy and aren’t a one-for-one fit but cater to a broader range of foot pain. These orthotics serve the general purpose of adding support to your feet and can have a low level effect on pain relief. If you’re looking to correct biomechanical foot problems or cure long lasting foot issues a custom orthotic is the way to go. 

Insoles, Orthotics, and Other Terms
Footbeds, shoe inserts, and sock liners are all terms that get thrown around when referencing the material that connects our feet to our shoes. As a result of the similarities in these terms, you’ll probably notice them being used interchangeably.

Footbed is a term most synonymous with insoles. Footbeds can help fill space in your shoes to provide a comforting experience and better fit. You’ll see footbeds used when shoes lack a half sized option, like in boots or slippers.

Sockliners (or factory liner) is the standard foam insert that comes stock with your shoe. Oftentimes this piece is attached using a light layer of glue and can be removed easily. When adding an aftermarket insole it’s best to remove the factory liner to get the best fit.

Inserts like footbeds, address aftermarket insoles as a whole. Where the terminology of inserts is most commonly used though is when referencing an over-the-counter orthotic

Over-the-counter inserts attempt to bridge the gap between medically graded orthotics and insoles. Over-the-counter inserts commonly try to solve independent problems but do it to a broad range of audiences. While they may help, they will only go so far in terms of addressing the root of the problem. 

Insole Materials
Insoles can be made using a variety of materials including foam, cork, and gel, and can also come with a top lining like shearling. 

Shearling insoles hold a big palace in the overall insole market. Like cork, shearling has natural breathable properties. The most attractive attribute of shearling is its antimicrobial effect. Shearling naturally kills microorganisms like bacteria and limits odors. For a deeper dive check out our blog on shearling.

pairs well with foam as a combo insole that molds to the contours of your feet and can provide subtle arch and heel support. Honey Soles provide a unique cork insole that addresses both heel support and breathability. 

Gel insoles have an emphasized use for shock absorption and also are looked at to add comfort to your foot while helping reduce muscle fatigue. You’ll recognize these insoles if you look through the isles of your local pharmacies.

Foam is the most common material for insoles and you can see it complimented as the core material added to a gel or cork insole. While it provides obvious comfort it is also lightweight and offers different levels of hardness, support and design. Certain foams will have a longer lifespan than others as it comes to insoles.

Insoles and Orthotics
While there are plenty of different terminologies connected to insoles and orthotics, both options are designed to improve your in-shoe experience. Whether you’re looking for added comfort and a better fit with your shoes or are in need of correcting medical issues, both insoles and orthotics can be helpful to you.