People experiencing foot pain often wonder about insoles and store kiosks that promise to recommend the best shoe insert to end their pain. Maybe you find yourself wandering through the shoe store looking for a pair of shoes that will make your feet hurt a little less when you see a “custom fit” kiosk. The digital screen encourages you to step on the platform for a custom “foot mapping.” This seems like a better idea than guessing which shoe will be more comfortable, so you follow the instructions, and the machine “maps” your feet. A recommendation pops up on the screen, suggesting you buy one of the orthotic inserts conveniently displayed on the kiosk. Now you don’t have to buy new shoes. You can just put the inserts in the ones you already have. You pick up the orthotics package and buy it. But as you wear the orthotics over the coming weeks, your foot pain doesn’t get any better. In fact, it may even get worse. What went wrong?
The above is a common scenario, with 77 percent of Americans reporting that they’ve experienced some type of foot problem, yet only about a third say they would seek out a podiatrist to address these issues. Instead, many turn to orthotic kiosks and over-the-counter remedies that may not work as well for their pain. Let’s look at some of the differences between a custom orthotics kiosk and an appointment with a Salt Lake City podiatrist:
It may seem like they do since the machine advertises that it scans your feet and recommends the right orthotics (shoe inserts) for you. But this means that the machine has an algorithm that recommends a shoe insert for you based on the selection of inserts for sale. The algorithm will try to match up your feet with the closest orthotic hanging on the rack.
On the other hand, a podiatrist will take detailed scans of your feet, conduct a thorough exam, and create a custom orthotic made for the contours of your feet. Many patients have structural issues or conditions that can only be addressed with a customized insert made just for their needs.
The ready-made shoe inserts in stores offer additional cushioning to some areas of your feet. In the short term, this may help some people with certain problems that cause foot pain, such as bunions and calluses. But for many, these inserts don’t help enough or for very long.
Custom orthotics designed by your podiatrist are made of sturdy material with additional cushioning exactly where you need it, not where a certain percentage of people need it according to an orthotics company’s research. They also have the exact amount of cushioning you need in key areas of your feet.
If your feet are shaped one way, it recommends Product A. If they’re shaped another way, it recommends Product B, and so on. This machine is not a doctor and doesn’t ask questions about your activity level, medical history, or other factors affecting foot health.
Your podiatrist will take a complete history and thoroughly examine it before prescribing anything. The doctor will ask questions to learn more about your pain, like when it started or what activities make it worse. They will go over your scans and run other tests as needed to rule out more serious issues that might respond better to surgery, medication, or other treatment plans. In some cases, they may recommend these options and custom orthotics. Or they may agree that custom insoles are the best way to begin treatment and re-evaluate in a few months based on your response to the orthotics. Your podiatrist will monitor your progress and be available to address any issues you have when using your new orthotics.
This is another important consideration when thinking about addressing your foot pain. When you climb onto the kiosk, your feet are imaged in a standing position. If your shoes don’t fit well or you have a condition like fallen arches, the image created will reflect the way your feet are at that moment – in the wrong position for your comfort. Orthotics work best when they help guide your feet into the most comfortable position. But the machine’s algorithm can’t recommend this type of product because it doesn’t know what position is best for your feet.
A podiatrist will perform a mechanical exam of your feet, consult your scans, and find the best position for your feet. They will then base your custom orthotics on helping you achieve this position throughout your day.
Many people buy insoles recommended by a kiosk, only to find their feet still hurt. Some even report that their symptoms get worse. Is the machine going to help you with that? At best, it might recommend an additional product, but there’s no guarantee that will work, either.
If you have difficulties with custom orthotics, you can contact your podiatrist’s office for advice. Sometimes you may need to give them a little time. In other situations, your podiatrist may recommend a small adjustment to the orthotics to help them support your feet better. They might also prescribe physical therapy or other treatments to help in combination with orthotics.
The most common reason people choose store kiosks is concern about cost. They may believe that a package of insoles from a big box store will save them a lot of money versus a doctor’s appointment. But is that really true?
First, it’s helpful to consult your health insurance policy to see what’s covered. Many policies cover visits to a podiatrist, as well as custom orthotics. Your costs may be limited to a small copay.
Additionally, there is more to consider than the sticker price of the insoles you pick up at the discount store. How long will those last? Will you buy another pair in a few weeks? Maybe the insoles will help, but they will wear out in a few weeks, leaving you to pay for a new pair. If you do that a few times, you may have spent more than your copay would have cost while still experiencing symptoms.
There’s also the cost of being in pain. If your new insoles don’t work and you’re hobbling around at work in discomfort, it may be hard for you to concentrate on the tasks at hand. If your job involves a lot of walking or physical activity, it could be harder to be productive. Worse, if your compensation is in some way based on your ability to get things done fast, your paycheck could suffer too.
The last thing to know is that many foot pain sufferers go on to see a podiatrist and receive custom orthotics after trying premade insoles from a store first. We meet people every day who tell us how long they’ve been using shoe inserts and what, if any, amount of relief they’ve experienced. Ultimately, they come to us because the inserts are not helping enough. But at this point, they may have spent a lot of money on packaged inserts only to buy custom ones that will address their specific problem. Did they save any money by doing this? Unfortunately, no. Instead, they spent a lot of money on insoles that didn’t help. In the long run, most patients will save money by investing in custom orthotics first.
Based on scans, store kiosks recommend a product that closely matches a person’s foot. Often these are not an exact match, but in a small percentage of cases, a person with minor foot problems will get lucky, and the premade insole will be a very close match for them. Then this lucky person’s friends will buy insoles at the same kiosk, expecting to get the same results, but they don’t most of the time.
If you have questions about custom orthotics, foot pain, or what your insurance may cover, please contact us. Our friendly staff will answer all your questions about insurance coverage and schedule you for a consultation with Dr. Elizabeth Auger. Dr. Auger is a Doctor of Podiatric Medicine (DPM) with more than 20 years of experience as a foot and ankle specialist in Salt Lake City. She focuses on holistic, patient-centered care and works to keep people moving.