custom orthotics vs store bought orthotics

Custom Orthotics Vs. Store Bought Orthotics

When weighing the options between a pair of custom orthotics vs. a pair of store bought orthotics there are many avenues to consider. In this blog post we will highlight the differences between custom orthotics and store bought orthotics that will help you determine what route is most beneficial to you when you decide to buy.

The Defined Difference Between Custom Orthotics & Store Bought Orthotics:

The first important thing is to know how each device is defined.  The Pedorthic Association of Canada defines store bought orthotics or over the counter foot orthotics as “mass-produced devices that are not unique to any person.”. Whereas custom orthotics are defined as “an internal foot appliance which is manufactured from a three dimensional image of the foot, and made from raw materials. Custom orthotics can accommodate bony deformities, and/or modify the movement pattern of the foot and lower limb”.

It is very important to note that although store bought orthotics can be heat molded and modifications can be applied to the existing insole (example: additions of metatarsal pads and posting), store bought orthotics can never be classified as a “Custom Device” because the device is not made from a negative cast capturing the exact three dimensional shape of your foot.

As a result most insurance companies do not cover the cost of store bought orthotics.


The Basic Difference Between Custom Orthotics & Store Bought Orthotics:


Store Bought Orthotics

Store bought orthotics  tend to be made with more cushioned materials

  • Advantage: for a person with a lack of padding on their feet (i.e. fat pad dystropohy or migration) or a person with normal biomechanics who is subjected to hard surfaces regularly than cushion might be all that is necessary!
  • Disadvantage: Cushion materials break down faster than firmer materials such as EVA or Plastics used in custom orthotics.

Store bought orthotics can provide some biomechanical or motion control but due to their material cushioned properties the support is minimal  What the patients needs are will determine if store bought orthotics will have sufficient control.

Store bought orthotics are usually shaped for a “general” or “average” foot shape and may not be ideal for all people.

  • Advantage: Store bought orthotics are more effective if they are heat moldable.  If heat moldable than some extra control and accommodation can be achieved.
  • Disadvantage: If the patients foot is not the same or similar to the shape of the store bought orthotic then the level of comfort and support will be minimal if any is achieved at all.

Store bought orthotics tend to be less expensive

  • Advantage: The upfront payment is not as difficult to deal with.
  • Disadvantage: Most insurance companies will NOT cover the costs associated with store bought orthotics and due to the wear and tear of the materials used, replacement is usually required every 3 to 6 months which actually increases the  yearly cost with no reimbursement options.


Custom Orthotics

Custom orthotics provide more material options for rigid or semi rigid shells, top covers, etc.

  • This allows for a customized fit, feel, etc. for each individual.  We can take into account the persons foot, biomechanical control needs, the type of shoe the custom orthotic will need to fit into, the activities the person does, and any material allergies or discomfort the patient may have.
  • Custom orthotics provide more biomechanical or motion control.  A more functional and supportive orthotic can be made  depending on a persons needs.

Custom orthotics are made from a direct 3D cast of a your foot

  • a 3D mold is taken using either a foam box cast, plaster cast, or computerized casting methods.
  • By directly casting the foot it enables us to capture the most desired position of the foot, reflect the anatomy of the foot, and establish a good starting point for the fabrication of the custom orthotics.

Custom orthotics tend to be more expensive

  • Disadvantage: It is recognized that custom orthotics do have a rather large upfront cost that can be difficult to manage sometimes, but there are solutions!!
  • Advantage: At this time when custom orthotics are made by properly licensed professionals, like Certified Pedorthist and Podiatrist,  insurance companies will cover a portion, if not the entire cost, of the custom orthotics.

Lifespan is about 1 to 2 years depending on the amount of daily use

  • Although the cost of custom orthotics appears substantially more than store bought orthotics the replacement needs are much less in the run of a year or two.


Key Factors to Consider:


The “lifespan” of store bought orthotics is typically shorter than custom orthotics due to the inevitable wear and tear on the materials used.  Therefore although store bought orthotics have a lower initial cost they must be replaced more frequently.  There is also no option for insurance reimbursement.


In cases where the cost of custom orthotics is not at all feasible, store bought orthotics can provide the patient with some relief depending on the reasons why they are needed.

Time Sensitive:

Since custom orthotics are in fact, custom made, there is time needed to manufacture them.  This is typically about a 2 week process. In moments of urgency store bought orthotics can help with immediate relief.  For example if a person with diabetes requires offloading right away store bought orthotics can be modified to allow the patient comfort until their custom orthotics arrive.

Biomechanical / Motion Control:

When discussing biomechanical and motion control we’re really talking about the goals of motion control coming from the orthotics when considering accommodation vs functional orthotics.  An Accommodation orthotic can be sufficiently effective when control of motion is not a concern.  Conversely a functional orthotic would be considered more effective with more motion control is necessary.

Minor vs. Major Abnormalities:

In some situations of minor biomechanical abnormalities when a simple cushion is necessary store bought orthotics can be very effective. For a foot with moderate/severe abnormalities, a custom orthotic would be a more effective method to address the foot problems with long term success.

Whether you decide on custom orthotics or store bought orthotics you should always consult with a certified specialist.  Either a Pedorthist or a Podiatrist can help educate you on what would be the best option for you.  To book an appointment with one of Arthritis & Injury Care Centre’s certified specialists please contact visit out contact page.

Arthritis & Injury Care Centre offers custom orthotics in Halifax ; custom orthotics in Dartmouth ; custom orthotics in Clayton Park ; custom orthotics in Saint John; and custom orthotics in Fredericton.




Dax Hooper, Orthopedic Surgical & Bracing Specialist, Certified Pedorthist
Arthritis & Injury Care Centre

Olivia Northrup, Business Administration Manager
Arthritis & Injury Care Centre


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