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Comfortable Feet. What Difference Can Insoles Make?

Posted by Jennifer Ashton on
Comfortable Feet. What Difference Can Insoles Make?

Have you ever struggled with foot pain? Sore ankles? Problems with your knees? Tight hamstrings, quads or a troublesome back? Chances are the majority of us at some point in our lives have dealt with one, or more, of those problems. But few of us realise that what happens to our feet effects the rest of our body.

None of us would ever build a house without strong foundations. Especially if you were building it on an uneven surface, or even sand. You spend hundreds of thousands of pounds investing in your house and everyone knows that without the foundations around it, the rest of the house is compromised. So why don’t we treat our feet in the same way? Our feet are our most valuable foundation of us, they look after our most critical possession- our body. They are the first part to contact the ground, shock absorb and help align our whole bodies. They are with us for life. And not quite perfect feet have such an impact on the rest of us. But none of us seem to consider the value of our life (and our health) in quite the same way we do the foundations of our house!

Feet are complex creations, totally unique to us! No two feet are the same (and that includes our own). It’s extremely common to have one foot slightly bigger than the other. It is also common that feet will be different in shape, height and volume. The reason behind this is there are so many moving parts in your foot- each foot is made up of 28 bones, 27 muscles, 16 joints and 107 ligaments (then let’s not forget the nerves and blood vessels too!). Your feet change shape over time- generally due to the elasticity (flexibility) in your feet. Weight gain (or loss), injury, footwear choices (high heels, poor fitting trainers), sports, pregnancy & illness (diabetes for example) are all perfectly good examples of reasons our foot shape may change.

According to Superfeet, in America alone, it is believed that 75% of the adult population has had problems with their feet (forget any aches that we wouldn’t necessarily think are related to our feet). That’s over 180 million people. Yet fewer than 10% seek out even the basic, over the counter solution to their foot problems.

As a ski boot fitter, one of the first things I talk about with a customer is the injuries they carry. Niggles from the back down and how they affect the customer in their day to day life. Then we look at alignment (ankles, knees and hips). But also whether they have flat feet or high arches- we’ll get into that shortly), anomalies with their feet and their range of motion. We talk to you about how a footbed will align your feet in the ski boot, support your arch, help your foot from getting longer (and wider) as your body weight is put through your feet (as soon as you stand up) and how it will lock your foot into the back of the boot and give you greater hold in your ski boot - ultimately a more pleasant, comfortable experience on the hill. But for most, often this doesn’t translate beyond a ski boot.

So, what difference can a footbed make? Where to begin?! It starts with comfort. Helps with pain relief. But for the slightly more competitive, it also helps with performance. Over the course of the next few blogs, we’ll do our best to help you sort all the niggles from the waist down, as well as improve your golf swing, up your watts on your bike or just generally help with information to make your next hike/walk/ski/cycle/run all the more comfortable.

Orthotics Vs Custom Insoles. What’s the difference?

An orthotic is a custom made insert, just as a custom insole is. However, the big difference for an orthotic is that is produced to medical grade standards. Orthotics will be produced by a doctor or podiatrist and prescribed directly to you in order to alleviate some sort of injury or problem that you are seeking treatment for. It is, in short, a prescribed medical device. While someone without the medical training can produce an orthotic of some description, they leave themselves open to liability on the off chance that things go wrong

A custom insole is not a prescribed medical device. While it will provide you with many of the same features- including cushioning and shock absorption. A well-made pair of insoles will balance the pressure and evenly distribute your body weight around your feet and will put your foot into a position that allows your feet (and body) to perform at an optimal level. An added bonus to it is it’ll often help prevent injuries (all over your body) and ease any aches and pains you may have developed.

The trick is, in both situations, being able to find someone you know and trust to make your insole or orthotic. Long servicing staff in outdoor stores and ski shops should have done plenty of training on how to make a supportive custom insole. While there’s no ‘right or wrong’ when it comes to making a footbed of any description (it depends on what the outcome is you’re looking for as to how the process will change), there’s definitely such a thing as poor construction. Word of mouth within the outdoor industry has definitely found a string of outdoor retailers that make brilliant custom insoles- all you have to do is poke around or ask for a suggestion!

As the owner of Hike and Ride, to those that know me, it’s no secret to share that I’ve had 5 surgeries on my foot. The last major one was a forefoot reconstruction involving 5 broken bones in 8 different places, a plate and 10 screws now a permanent metalwork feature in my right foot. In the last few years I spent 15 months across 3 years on crutches. Since the age of 13 and playing loads of sport as a child I’ve had problems with knees and ankles. At 15 I was given custom orthotics and I trusted the chap that made them implicitly- he was a podiatrist who diagnosed the root cause of my aches and pains at the time and most importantly, talked me through things so I understood the implications. At the time, technology was to make casts for my feet as they were held in a totally neutral position. Later, that system was changed to being scanned in the same position. In moving to the UK 11 years ago I shifted to custom insoles. No longer the medical grade- as a young Aussie travelling the world at the time, I really couldn’t afford the medical grade stuff anymore. With almost a decade working in various outdoor stores, doing all the training that was on offer- in the UK, France and Austria, as well as having a bachelor degree in sports science, I’ve learned how to tell a well moulded footbed from a poor one and I have seen first-hand (on my own feet) and those of families and friends the benefits a good custom insole can make. I have a pair of custom insoles in every single pair of footwear I own- trainers, ski boots, snowboard boots, my cycling shoes, work shoes, Chelsea boots. The only pairs that don’t- flip flops and Uggs (but my Uggs never leave the house and I’m very rarely seen in flip flops these days!). For me, doing the training and having the understanding of the benefits a custom insole can have, not only improved things like my average speeds on my road cycling (by almost 2km/h instantly), but it has also allowed me a far better quality of life because of it. For me, I’d find it hard going back to justifying the expense of orthotics against all the insoles that I own.  While their stories might be different, you’ll find others in the outdoor sector with similar levels of training and experience with custom insoles.

Custom Made Vs Pre-Moulded Insoles

There’s nothing nicer than having a dress or suit tailored to fit you perfectly. But for most of us this isn’t always necessary (or overly kind to the wallet!). Pre-moulded insoles are a great way of figuring out if insoles are the right move to increase your comfort. They are also a really cheap way of starting out in the world of insoles if you’re unsure or if you’re taking the plunge and getting multiple pairs to save you shifting them between footwear. What’s more is that brands like Superfeet do a customer satisfaction return, where you can try them out and if they really aren’t right for you, return them even after use. What’s better than shopping in peace of mind?

Over the next 3 blogs, we’ll look at the different types of foot shapes. Why support is a good idea for each shape. And what types of improvements can an insole of any description make- improved performance and more comfort included.


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