Short answer: As soon as you buy new shoes, especially ones without a proper insole or arch support when you get them.
Long answer: A good number of people are under the impression that insoles and arch supports are something to look for only when your feet start hurting, or once you’ve been to the podiatrist and been diagnosed with a foot condition such as plantar fasciitis. This stems from the notion that, surprisingly, a large number of people have: “Foot pain is just a normal thing that happens.”
I couldn’t disagree more.
In reality, shoe insoles are not just a treatment option for foot pain. In fact, in many cases shoes insoles are preventative; they provide proper support, stability, cushioning, and shock absorption for your feet, which not only helps your feet feel in top shape all day long but also prevent many foot conditions from even developing in the first place.
When you buy a new pair of shoes, or when your old insoles or arch supports reach the end of their usable life, you should always consider getting a new insole or arch support as soon as possible.
The Truth About the Insoles that Come in Your Shoes
Most shoes don’t have a proper insole or arch support in them when you purchase them. They have instead what’s commonly referred to as a “sock liner” – a thin insert, often without any form of arch support, stability, or shock absorption and usually without much in the way of cushioning – whose sole purpose is to simply separate your foot from the unfinished bottom of the inside of the shoe.
If you’re wearing a pair of shoes with the factory insole still in it, take it out and examine it. If it’s flat, thin, and doesn’t seem like it’s very good, there’s a good chance that it isn’t very good at all for your feet.
Sock liners such as these do much for your feet at all except make it so that you don’t feel the bottom of the inside of the shoe when you wear them. And that’s the major issue here; sock liners don’t give you what your feet actually need: support, stability, comfort, and shock absorption.
Why Do I Need a Proper Insole or Arch Support?
Your feet do a lot of work for your body, and they take a beating for it. They support the entire weight of your body as you walk, stand, and run, and the pressure these activities put on your feet cause problems over time, even if you don’t feel it right away.
Plantar fasciitis, for example, is one of the most common causes of foot pain. In most cases, this is caused by repeated micro-tearing of the plantar fascia tendon – the tendon that runs from your heel through the arch of your foot – that occurs from strain put on the tendon over time through many normal, everyday activities. In this example, a proper arch support that will give your foot the support it needs will help take this strain off the tendon and save you some (or much) pain later down the road.
Plantar fasciitis isn’t the only example, either. Shin splints can largely be prevented with a combination of proper support and shock absorption. Foot fatigue from standing long periods can be prevented with cushioning and cushioned support for pressure relief. Even some knee, hip, and lower back pain can be prevented by ensuring that you have proper foot support to help align your lower body and alleviate strain on these joints.
So What Insole or Arch Support is Right for You?
The short answer here is that it’s different for each person, depending on your day-to-day lifestyle and activities. I’ll try and provide some quick answers below to get you started:
Everyday wear for general comfort and support
Most people aren’t full-time athletes; they aren’t performing regular activities that put the maximum strain on their feet day in and day out. But nearly everyone is on their feet for some period of the day, whether it’s while shopping, walking about the office, or even just out for an evening stroll. In such cases, you don’t necessarily need an insole with “all the bells and whistles,” but rather an insole with a good combination of gentle support and good cushioning.
Look for a cushioned arch support. For most people, a combination of a little support and good cushioning goes a long way. Cushioned arch supports have a support that is made entirely of cushioning material – usually either foam or gel – that provides mild support for your foot arch without being very intrusive. This will help alleviate pressure and strain from the arch of your foot, and the cushioning throughout the insole will create a nice, soft bed for your foot as you go about your life.
High-impact activities, such as running and court sports
We refer to any activity wherein your feet make repeated, forceful impact with the ground as “high-impact.” Think of running or tennis as good examples; in both cases, your feet are pounding against the ground, pavement, or court with each step you take. In contrast to walking or standing, the additional force that’s created with such forceful contact with the ground adds an added amount of strain and shock on the foot, and that added strain requires an insole that’s a bit more robust to handle.
Look for a semi-rigid arch support, especially one with shock-absorbing pads under the heel and the ball-of-foot. The semi-rigid support will still flex during your high-impact activities, allowing natural movement of the foot while still providing your foot with the support it needs. The padding under the heel and the ball-of-foot – the two parts of the foot that make the most contact with the ground during such activities – will absorb much of the shock created when you run or jump, which will greatly reduce the strain that you’re putting on your feet.
When to Replace Your Insoles
On average, insoles last between 3-9 months, with the difference in time due primarily to how much wear the insoles experience day in and day out. The more frequently you wear your insoles, the faster they wear down and thus the more frequently they will need to be replaced.
You should replace your insoles the moment they begin not feeling like they’re doing their job as well as they used to. If your feet start hurting even with your insoles in them, it’s likely that the arch support and/or the cushioning isn’t performing as well anymore. This is normal and due entirely to the insole reaching the end of its life as the cushioning and support begin to wear down from use. Replacing your worn-out pair with a new pair will take care of this problem.
If you take anything away from this article, it should be that insoles and arch supports are a key part in ensuring that your feet stay happy and healthy. While the day-to-day activities that you pursue and the current state of your foot health both determine how quickly you’ll begin to experience foot pain, even seemingly low-impact, everyday activities can wear on your feet over time. It’s important to not only your feet, but also your entire lower body, to ensure that your feet are supported and taken care of each and every day.
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