We depend on our feet to get from place to place. Putting pressure on them day in and day out can take its toll over time, resulting in a long list of ailments ranging from a limp to a hammer toe. The simplest way to correct and ease foot problems is by using an orthotic shoe insert. By taking a closer look at the benefits of both customized inserts and over-the-counter varieties, you can decide which is right for you and your valuable feet.

Custom orthotics

There are generally two types of customized orthotics: rigid (functional) and soft (accommodative). A rigid orthotic is typically used to correct problems, such as pronation or supination, by putting the bones of the subtalar joint in the neutral position, relieving pressure, says Michael G. Lacey, DPM, from Friendly Foot Care in Crown Point. "A soft orthotic serves as a shock absorber to the foot," he says. "This type is commonly used to help ease pain associated with arthritis or diabetic foot ailments. The soft orthotic also supports the arch, whereas a more rigid orthotic is used to control foot dysfunction such as plantar fasciitis."

How are these unique orthotics made?

First, the foot is placed into a box of foam to make an exact impression. A lab uses this foam impression to create a plastic foot with the exact measurements and structure of your foot. From this exact replica, the lab will then create the arch support. A doctor will determine which materials, depending on the foot problem, will be used to create the final orthotic.

If you find yourself wearing more than just the ordinary gym shoe, Dr. Lacey says a thinner graphite orthotic can be made for shoes that cannot accommodate the usual orthotics, such as a steel-toed boot or dress shoe.

Over-the-counter inserts

Most pharmacies sell shoe inserts, which are basically soft cushions made for the average foot. These are a great quick fix for special outings when you may be wearing high heels or shoes that aren't especially comfortable. If you suffer from a foot abnormality, they probably will not offer the support you need. However, if you are unable to get a customized insert, these over-the-counter varieties are better than wearing a shoe as is.

Recently, Dr. Scholl's has been creating custom fit orthotic inserts by using specialized kiosks that can be found where most Dr. Scholl's products are sold. These kiosks identify the areas of your foot that experience the most pressure while also measuring the arch and foot length. From this analysis a report will tell you which of the four inserts would best serve your foot's needs.

Our feet are important and deserve to be taken care of. When they aren't, problems can extend beyond the foot itself and into the legs, hips and lower back. Stay on top of these issues by considering a shoe insert. Whether it's customized by your foot doctor or sold at the nearest drug store, a little support can go a long way.