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Foot, Ankle, Leg and Back Pain: Can Shoe Insoles Help you?

Aches and pain in the leg and lower back may or may not represent an exercise or sports injury. But given our working and social lifestyle, these aches and pain can affect our mood and well-being from the time we first get out of bed, through to our most favorite exercise.

Do you need insoles? Here’s a little test to see if you should consider insoles to help you through your exercise and work day:

1) Does your occupation require you to:

""  Stand for long periods of time

""  Walk around for several hours of the day?

2) Does your favorite exercise or sport involve:

""  Running, jumping, or walking
""  Twisting of the knee and ankle
""  Stepping, kicking (martial arts style)?

3) Do you suffer from aches or pain in any of these areas on a regular basis, especially related to your work or exercise:

""  Foot or ankle, especially in the arch (inner area) of the foot, and the heel area just behind the inner ankle
""  Knee, especially over the inner part
""  Pain under the heel of your foot, especially first thing in the morning or on prolonged standing and walking
""  Low back ache when you stand or exercise?

4) Do you have any of these conditions:

""  Flat feet
""  Foot arches which are quite low (collapsing)
""  Plantar fascitis
""  Hallux valgus
""  Knock knees
""  Achilles tendonitis?

If you have ticked a box in most of the questions above, you might have an exercise or sports injury. You should really consider having your feet, legs and back checked by your Sportzdoc! Do read on and see if insoles might be something that will help you ease the aches and pain.

What are insoles? How do they Help my Exercise & Sports Injuries, Aches and Pain?
Shoe insoles are meant to be inserted into your work or exercise/sports shoes to provide some relief from aches and pain. A lot of these aches, pain and sports injuries arise from quite small disturbances in your feet, especially the arches – the curved areas on the inner part of each foot. Since we place all our body weight through just 2 feet whenever we stand, walk, jump or run, it is not surprising that things which may go wrong in the feet then affect our body supported above those feet: the ankles, knees, hips and lower back especially.

Insoles provide 2 main functions:

1. Correct small (or marked!) foot irregularities or abnormalities, such as arches that are flat or flattening. Insoles provide direct support being given to the bones, joints, ligaments and tendons in the foot. This results in less stress being placed through these structures as well as the joints of the leg and back.

2. Provide comfort by absorbing some of the impact shocks that go through the foot to the leg when you walk, jump or run.

If insoles are carefully fitted and matched to your feet, the result is a smiling experience: more comfort, less aches & pain, and the ability to stand, jump and run for longer periods of time. Oftentimes, exercise and sports injuries also recover faster and the insoles help to prevent their recurrence. And as a result of improved actions (mechanics) in the feet, exercise and sports performance is often enhanced as well.

Sound good to you? Well, before you leap into the nearest store and buy the first insoles you see, here are some facts about the different types of insoles commonly available to you, what they do, and how much they cost. Hopefully, this will help you make a more considered and cost-effective decision about the next step (pun intended) you should take.

Different Types of Insoles for your Exercise & Sports Injuries, Aches and Pain
Insoles are also often called “orthotics” and there are 3 main types: soft, rigid, and semi-rigid.

Soft Orthotics
  1. These insoles are designed to cushion the foot. They absorb the impact shock of jumping and running, and also help to relieve pressure over sore points under your feet and sole.
  2. Soft insoles generally do not provide support for your arches and foot
  3. Commonly available in sports shops, these insoles come in different grades of softness. The amount of cushioning that they provide over time will depend on the material they are made from as well as how you store them or how often you use them.
  4. They range from about -70.

 Rigid Orthotics

  1. Rigid orthotics are designed to control the function of the foot by correcting any abnormal angles and movements of foot joints. They are made by podiatrists and require a cast to be taken of your feet, and the insole constructed based on that.
  2. The insoles are rigid and most people will require some adjustment time to get used to the rigid structure. Rigid orthotics are made largely for walking or work shoes. They may not be immediately suitable for you to use in exercise and sports shoes because the rigidity and hard feel.
  3. Rigid orthotics last a long time. They are the most expensive type of orthotics, costing about 0-300.

Semi-Rigid Orthotics

  1. Semi-rigid orthotics provide a more dynamic adjustment of the foot and offer some degree of impact cushioning as well. They work well in work or dress shoes if properly fitted, but their main application is for exercise and sports shoes.
  2. Like rigid orthotics, they control movements of the foot in a way that relieves stress on the foot and ankle. By being less rigid, they can be put to use quickly in exercise and sports shoes, and most users of these insoles are able to start exercising with them immediately.
  3. SportzDoc at The Clinic @ Cuppage custom makes these using the New Zealand FORMTHOTICS system. A recent large study in Australia found these semi-rigid orthotics to be better than even rigid orthotics in managing foot pain.
  4. These custom-fitted orthotics cost about per pair and provide good support for up to 2 years of regular use.

What about Orthotics for Children and Teenagers?
Orthotics are very helpful in providing relief from foot and ankle aches/pain in children who have foot arch conditions. By stabilizing the feet and relieving the stresses placed on the leg, children feel less discomfort and can enjoy their walking and running much more. This is especially so given the long day at school and the sometime rather heavy school bags which they carry.

Unless the young person has a markedly deformed foot, it is best to start children or young teens with semi-rigid orthotics. These provide support but feel more comfortable in school and sports shoes.

How to Go About Getting your Insoles

Here are some tips on getting those insoles to get away from exercise and sports injuries:

1. Have your feet checked by someone properly trained to guide you about your feet. If you are seeing Sportzdoc, take this chance to go through the various aches and pain you may be having from the feet up to the back. This check-up does not need you to undergo any fancy tests.

2. With a proper check on your feet, you will get sound advice on:

  1. Whether you actually need insoles or not
  2. Íf so, what type of insoles will best meet your needs
  3. Advice on footwear for work, exercise, sports and social use

3. If having your insoles custom-made (eg. Formthotics, orthotics), do bring your most used work and sports shoes for Sportzdoc or your foot specialist to see. This will help to determine the best type and fit for your insoles.

4. If buying insoles off the shelf, do bring along the shoes you intend to use the insoles with. If possible (and this is not common!), ask to try the insoles out in the shop. If they feel too soft, or there are areas of the insole which uncomfortably rub against your foot, you may want to consider other choices. An insole that is too soft or softens within a short time means it loses its ability to provide support to those tired or injured feet and ankles.

5. Try the insoles out progressively. What I mean here is to allow your feet (and everything above them) to being accustomed to the new feeling of the arch and foot support.

About the Author
Dr Low Wye Mun is a sports physician practicing at The Clinic @ Cuppage in Singapore. A Fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine, he serves on the ACSM International Relations Committee and chairs the committee for the ACSM International Team Physician Course. A regularly featured writer and speaker, he lectures for the Singapore Sports Council and the Blackburn College diploma programme. More information on Dr Low and his sports injury clinic can be found at
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