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Do orthotic Insoles really do live up to the hype in being able to improve body alignment, reduce injury risk and increase performance?

The Renaissance Of Arch Support and Specialized Insoles

A few of this site's older members might remember just how rare specialized insoles for your shoes once were. Whether they were built directly into the shoe or sold as an added instrument that you could slot into whatever pair of shoes you were wearing, orthotic insoles were not always as commonplace as they are today.

Now though, you just have to take a trip to the nearest sports equipment or shoe store to purchase a pair of these custom designed shoe inserts. You'll now also find most of these stores equipped with pressure pads for your feet, some computer monitors and maybe even a treadmill to test your gait (another word for walking style) to find your 'foot type' and prescribe an insole accordingly. But where did this resurgence of interest in orthotics come from? Better question yet, where did they originate and why were they being sold in the first place?

A Quick History Of Orthotics

Specialized insoles for shoes actually date back further than you might think. In fact, when researching this topic, it's surprising how much history and controversy is behind these simple footwear items. You see, early in the 20th century an orthopedist called Royal Whitman believed that both the shape of the foot and how someone walked was related to muscle action and designed the first 'orthotic insole’, which is a nice way to describe his invention of a metal brace with a large metal bump on the inside for 'arch support’. While few people used the device, due to the pain it caused, it was the start of the concept of treating someone's biomechanical (a fancy term for human movement) issues. This concept was then tweaked by a Dr. Scholl. Yeah, that Dr. Scholl. He basically reinvented the brace to make it more lightweight, adaptable to many different shoes and, most importantly, more comfortable.

From there, the manufacturing and marketing of orthotic insoles and 'corrective’ shoes exploded. These relatively new products were marketed to be able to treat a wide range of problems and ailments. It actually got so bad that, in the 1940s, the Federal Trade Commission in the USA issued a cease-and-desist order to many companies over the excessive and false claims of what their shoes could do.

However, as these devices got lighter and cheaper to manufacture, their growth in the market continued right up to the present day. Now, they're even being franchised to third-party companies, like the shoe stores mentioned above.

Savior Or Sham?

So, now that we're all caught up on the history of orthotics, the most logical question to come next is ‘do they work?’

The best way to answer this is to look at what these specialist shoes or insoles claim to help, and how.

In an industry like this, with diverse products and a large difference in the marketing of these products, there will always be variations in claims for selling each individual shoe or insole, so, in this article, we’ll deal with the most common claim used.

Continue reading after recommendations

  • 1. Jaffe, Adam B. (2007) Innovation and Its Discontents: How Our Broken Patent System is Endangering Innovation and Progress, and What to Do About It
  • 2. Kinchington, M. A., Ball, K. A., & Naughton, G. (2011). Effects of footwear on comfort and injury in professional rugby league. Journal of sports sciences, 29(13), 1407-1415.
  • 3. Luo, G., Stergiou, P., Worobets, J., Nigg, B., & Stefanyshyn, D. (2009). Improved footwear comfort reduces oxygen consumption during running. Footwear Science, 1(1), 25-29.
  • 4. Mattila, V. M., Sillanpää, P. J., Salo, T., Laine, H. J., Mäenpää, H., & Pihlajamäki, H. (2011). Can orthotic insoles prevent lower limb overuse injuries? A randomized‐controlled trial of 228 subjects. Scandinavian journal of medicine & science in sports, 21(6), 804-808.
  • 5. Miller, J. E., Nigg, B. M., Liu, W., Stefanyshyn, D. J., & Nurse, M. A. (2000). Influence of foot, leg and shoe characteristics on subjective comfort. Foot & Ankle International, 21(9), 759-767.
  • 6. Murley, G. S., & Bird, A. R. (2006). The effect of three levels of foot orthotic wedging on the surface electromyographic activity of selected lower limb muscles during gait. Clinical Biomechanics, 21(10), 1074-1080.
  • 7. Ndermann, A. M., Nigg, B. M., Humble, R. N., & Stefanyshyn, D. J. (2003). Orthotic comfort is related to kinematics, kinetics, and EMG in recreational runners. Medicine & science in sports & exercise, 195(9131/03), 3510-1710.
  • 8. Nigg, B. M. (2001). The role of impact forces and foot pronation: a new paradigm. Clinical journal of sport medicine, 11(1), 2-9.
  • 9. Nigg, B. M., Baltich, J., Hoerzer, S., & Enders, H. (2015). Running shoes and running injuries: mythbusting and a proposal for two new paradigms:‘preferred movement path’and ‘comfort filter’. British journal of sports medicine, bjsports-2015.
  • 10. Starrett, C. J. (1994). Historical review and current use of the Whitman/Robert's orthoses in biomechanical therapy. Clinics in podiatric medicine and surgery, 11(2), 231-239.
  • Photo courtesy of sole lover: www.flickr.com/photos/26514616@N04/8057728894/
  • Photo courtesy of genvessel: www.flickr.com/photos/genvessel/119944073/
  • Photo courtesy of sole lover: www.flickr.com/photos/26514616@N04/8057728894/