If you have diabetes or circulation problems—which can cause foot ulcers and infections—the American Podiatric Medical Association advises talking to a healthcare professional before trying out an over-the-counter insole. A podiatrist can find solutions for foot- and leg-pain issues that won’t rub or irritate your feet.
If you’re otherwise healthy but are experiencing foot pain, experts say over-the-counter insoles can be a good option.
Just remember that they’re intended to help ease foot pain, not something more complex, like back pain. “They work best for foot pain of all sorts,” including ankle pain and shin pain, notes Ferber, who has studied prefabricated orthotics extensively. “But they’re less effective for knee, hip, and lower back pain. There are so many more variables involved with discomfort in those areas.”
Over-the-counter solutions may not correct underlying problems that can cause long-lasting discomfort as effectively as custom inserts. But Ferber says they can come close—with significant money and time savings for patients who don’t go the custom route.
For the best results, Ferber recommends that people experiencing foot pain try calf raises in addition to using insoles. While standing with feet shoulder-width apart, raise up on your toes for 2 seconds, then lower your feet to the ground slowly (about 2 seconds). Hold onto a countertop or sturdy chair for support. “Do 20 to 60 a day,” he says. “This one exercise strengthens nine muscles that support the structure of your foot and propel you forward with every step. It can help fallen arches, heel pain, ankle pain, and shin pain.”