There is a difference between shoe inserts and custom-made orthotics. Shoe inserts are any kind of non-prescription foot support designed to be worn inside a shoe. Pre-packaged arch supports are shoe inserts. So are the “custom-sized” insoles and foot supports that you can order online or at retail stores. Unless the device has been prescribed by a doctor and crafted for your specific foot, it's a shoe insert, not a custom orthotic device, despite what the ads might say.

Shoe inserts can be very helpful for a variety of foot ailments, including flat arches and foot and leg pain. They can cushion your feet, provide comfort, and support your arches, but they can't correct biomechanical foot problems or cure long-standing foot issues.

Custom foot orthotics are specially-made devices designed to support and comfort your feet. Prescription orthotics are crafted for you and no one else. They match the contours of your feet precisely and are designed for the way you move. Orthotics are only manufactured after a doctor has conducted a complete evaluation of your feet, ankles, and legs, so the orthotic can accommodate your unique foot structure and pathology.

Doctors use orthotics to treat foot problems such as plantar fasciitis, bursitis, tendinitis, diabetic foot ulcers, and foot, ankle and heel pain.

Orthotics typically cost more than shoe inserts purchased in a retail store, but the additional cost is usually well worth it. Unlike shoe inserts, orthotics are molded to fit each individual foot, so you can be sure that your orthotics fit and do what they're supposed to do. Prescription orthotics are also made of top-notch materials and last many years when cared for properly.

Foot orthotics can help with foot pain but also knee, hip and low back pain, dysfunction and alignment.

Dr Michael Van Antwerp is a certified pedorthist (CPed) in addition to a sports chiropractor (CCSP). A CPed is a separate profession that specializes in making custom foot orthotics and footwear. The nice thing about having your pedorthist also be a treating physician is that they understand the treatment and rehab of the foot.

Dr Van Antwerp started the orthotic company ArchMed and continues to provide his own skill and use of specialty labs in developing a custom foot orthotic.