The human foot contains twenty-six bones that fit together in a way that forms two arches: the longitudinal arch and the transverse arch. These structures provide support for the entire weight of the body, distribute weight evenly across the foot, and act as shock absorbers as we walk. The arches are held in position by ligaments, the most important of which is the plantar fascia.
The height of the arch varies naturally from individual to individual, with some people having high arches, and some people flat feet, i.e., no arch at all. Both situations can cause foot pain. Damage to the ligaments can cause the arches to fall. Biomechanical conditions can cause the foot to roll too far inwards or outwards, placing excessive stress on the foot structure and leading to a variety of painful conditions in the foot, ankle, and lower leg.
Insoles (also referred to as orthotics) that may be bought over the counter or custom made, slip into the shoe and support the natural arch, relieving symptoms and making standing for long periods of time more comfortable.
Many people can benefit from wearing insoles. Some common conditions that cause pain in the foot are listed below. If you suffer from any of these you should consider trying insoles to see if they relieve your symptoms.
Ball of foot pain (metatarsalgia): This can be caused by high arches, unusually long second toes, or very long metatarsals (the bones in the forepart of the foot that connect the arch to the toes).
Morton’s Neuroma: This is a benign enlargement of tissue around a nerve. Morton’s neuroma affects a nerve that is usually found between the third and fourth toes.
Overpronation: This occurs when the foot rolls inwards too far. It can lead to knee, lower leg, and foot injuries such as heel spurs, plantar fasciitis, tendinitis, and bunions. Overpronation often occurs in people with flat feet.
Plantar fasciitis: This is inflammation of the plantar fascia, the wide band of connective tissue that runs from the heel to the ball of the foot.
Heel spurs: These are hook-shaped pieces of bone that grow from the heel bone, either at the back of the heel or underneath it.
Achilles tendonitis: This is inflammation of the Achilles tendon at the back of the heel. An insole can help relieve pain by protecting the tendon from rubbing against the shoe. Heel lifts (a type of insert) reduce the pressure of the heel on the back of the shoe.
Flat feet: This occurs when the arch fails to develop during childhood. The foot lies completely flat on the floor when standing. Flat feet can lead to other conditions such as tendonitis, arthritis, bunions, hammertoes, shin splints, and plantar fasciitis.
Peroneal tendonitis: This is inflammation of the peroneal tendons that are part of the muscles that help stabilize the foot when walking. If you have high arches an insole will alter the position of the foot to relieve pressure on the tendons.
Ankle osteoarthritis: This is a degenerative disease of the joints. Heel inserts or high quality insoles can cushion shock while walking.
Shin splints: Runners, women in particular, often suffer from these. The shock absorption qualities of insoles can modify the forces transmitted up the shinbone.
Other people who may benefit from insoles are athletes who spend time on their feet, and workers who spend long hours standing.