Custom Foot Orthotics; No Better Than Stock Insoles

According to the most recent findings (and more importantly, how your feet actually function), it turns out that the insoles that you can purchase over the counter aren’t any better than the custom molded foot orthotics that you’ll end up paying hundreds of dollars for.

What I find most interesting: There’s NOT ONE MENTION of there being any difference between what have been called “customized” orthotics and those stock inserts that can be found in the store.

Even more glaring is how these findings are packaged in such a way that there’s NO MENTION of how the rather pricey custom foot orthotics have continued to be recommended under false pretenses for so many years.

<figure><img src="" alt="Foot Orthotics" width="500" Height="333" /></figure>

Photo Credit: gibsonsgolfer Flickr via Compfight cc

That’s A LOT of feet that have been forced to adapt to those foot coffins.

This, when for many years prior to being placed in those coffins, those same feet were capable of adapting to what they were meant to adapt to – the ground.


Prior to being told that supportive insoles are the way to go, I think it’s safe to say that all of those people didn’t know what they didn’t know.

Which brings me to an even bigger question that you might have already thought about, which is, if the experts aren’t capable of seeing that your feet aren’t the only part of your body that allows you to go against the pull of gravity on every step, how were all of those people that were seeking help supposed to know all there is to know?

Instead of continuing to wax on about over-pronation and flat feet, the term that needs to be dusted off and given the importance that it deserves is supination.

With so much miss guided attention on over-pronation, you more than likely haven’t heard much about the opposite of pronation.

Nonetheless, when the environment of your feet allows for it, much like pronation, your ability to supinate your feet at the right time is up to many muscles working together.

Whether your feet are as flat as a pancake or you overpronate, the most important part of the conversation that’s been left out for decades is, how well are your feet supinating?

To give you a visual (and for the record, this is an admitted over simplification), imagine supination as motion that occurs from the top-down and pronation consisting of movements that occur from the bottom-up (e.g., walking or running).

Prior to having pain and then stuffing foot orthotics in your shoes, muscles were capable of decelerating and accelerating your feet away from the ground.

The acceleration phase is referred to as supination. Supination consists of motion that occurs in three different directions simultaneously.  Think of supination as motion where your foot goes away from the ground or against the consistent pull of gravity.

Believe it or not, you could attend a college course at most universities in the world, and not get the full story on how your feet and the rest of your chain interact with the ground.

Since it’s completely possible for motion of your feet to occur from the top-down and the bottom-up, supporting your base of support isn’t doing anything to improve how you walk or run (i.e., bottom-up prior to top-down).

And that’s why plantar fasciitis has so little to do with your feet.

With little to no change in their thought process, the experts are left to continue to reach for more and more Band-aids.  Only to apply different combinations of those same Band-aids to the area where the pain is.

Ch-Ch-Ch-Change takes a long time.

By social norms, I’m not an expert on foot function.  And if you’re taking the time to read this, I’m thinking that you aren’t either.  But yet, with no college degree and a whole lot of real-world experience that adds up to a tremendous amount of career capital, I see foot orthotics as nothing more than throwing you farther from the side of the spectrum that’s labeled, anti-fragile.

So if you're beginning with the end in mind, foot orthotic insoles are the most destructive of all the Band-aids.Click To Tweet

A perspective that goes right along with an old adage, “Where you stand depends on where you sit.”  

[ Sidebar: Even though one reason is enough, I’ve included four major reasons why it won’t pay to stuff foot orthotics into your shoes. ]

In a recent article in Lower Extremity Review (a magazine for professionals), there was an article entitled, Study challenging Root concepts reignites debate.

Although the research tends to leave this side of the story out, in more ways than one, it’s worth keeping in mind that there’s always a human vantage point behind the lens through which the research is unveiled.

Along with that worldview is a certain amount of experience, ego, and bias through which the people doing the research are seeing the subject-matter. Status bias is another factor that tends to fly under the radar.

“Why did Plato, in seeking ultimate truth, turn inward, away from the physical world?  Part of the reason, no doubt, was that he loved his theories too much, and could not bring himself to contemplate their possible failure.  That all-too-common attitude is still with us — it is standard in politics, common in social sciences, and not unknown even in physics” — Frank Wilczek, A Beautiful Question: Finding Nature’s Deep Design

Considering the power that bias has, agenda is also worth keeping an eye out for.  In other words, seeing what’s truly at play from what’s imagined in one’s own mind.

As an example, the people behind the research aren’t taking into consideration which muscles are tight from the muscles that are underperforming.

And for the record, neither are the experts that want to continue recommending foot orthotics.

The people who are performing the research have continued to assume that every individual has the same muscles that are working in concert with one another.

And as you might have already guessed, that’s a HUGE ASSUMPTION.

Just because the muscles, brain, and circuitry are all present, doesn’t mean there’s an optimal connection being made.  Ultimately, faster feedback out to the muscle equates to muscles being able to pull with more efficiency.


Having looked at what human function and physics have shown for quite some time, combined with the fact that the experts stand to lose a lot, even over the short-term, it’s extremely difficult to see where foot orthotics have a place.

Now imagine that prior to sorting through the research that’s being done on anything that has to do with foot orthotics (or plantar fasciitis); seen as an expert in all things feet, you have this pre-existing notion that custom foot orthotics have to fit in somewhere.

Somewhere in the world in which you work.  And the world in which you stand to gain a lot by recommending them.

It’s the human side of the equation that stands in the way.

“And sloppy science said that a 4-minute mile was impossible and that a woman could never finish a marathon.  Sloppy because it doesn’t include all the relevant factors. There’s nothing wrong with the scientific method, but everything is wrong with using it poorly (and often intentionally).”  — Seth Godin, LINCHPIN 

Looking at the bigger picture, I aim to show you that foot orthotics are far from the best option.

Here’s an excerpt from the most recent findings in Lower Extremity Review magazine: “We attached marker plates to the foot, and were able to capture individual bone movement and compare that to the Root static assessments.  Root suggested that the subtalar joint was the key joint in the foot but our results indicate that all the joints are equally important in their contribution to foot movement.”

That statement sounds really good (and in some ways it is).  It certainly has the ring of being all about the scientific method.

If we’re being honest, it’s only giving you a sliver of the whole story.  While at the same time, making it sound like there are a lot of unanswered questions.

It’s meant to be intriguing (i.e., marketing).

In order to decipher what’s being said in the first sentence, you don’t need to have a college degree.  You just need to know that you were born with 28 bones and 33 joints throughout each foot.

Once you have that information to work with, I think it’s safe to say that you could recognize that when those joints move together, they’re going to be responsible for a tremendous amount of motion.

<figure><img src="" alt="An Infants Feet" width="500" Height="257" /></figure>

Photo Credit: Foot Posture Centre Flickr via Compfight cc

And then there’s your own experience. Case in point, for a good part of your day-to-day activities, you know that your foot doesn’t remain in one position.  Instead, your base of support is capable of moving in three different directions at the same time.

Instead, your base of support is capable of moving in three different directions at the same time.

And prior to having pain, for many years, your feet were capable of taking on A LOT.

No bias there. That’s just a fact of life.

Reason #1 

[ “We attached marker plates to the foot, and were able to capture individual bone movement and compare that to the Root static assessments. ]

Fitting you for orthotics in a non-weight bearing static position when everybody in the office knows that prior to walking through the front door, those same feet were moving dynamically, speaks to how easy it is to get by without much in the way of critical thinking.

“What values are we choosing to base our actions on?  What metrics are we choosing to use to measure our life?  And are those good choices–good values and good metrics?” — Mark Manson, The Subtle Art Of Not Giving A F*CK

Not to state the obvious, but there’s also the fact that you and I live within a gravitational field.  And because of that, when we punch the ground with our feet, whether we like it or not, the ground punches right back. That punch from the ground is part of what’s driving your feet into pronation and supination (i.e., going against the pull of gravity).

That punch from the ground to the bottom of your feet is part of what’s driving your feet into pronation and supination (i.e., going against the pull of gravity).

If the researchers attached marker plates to your legs, thighs, and pelvic girdle, they would find that right after all of the bones throughout your feet move, all of the bones that make up your lower extremity would also flex (a.k.a., pronate).

Seeing as how the experts want to continue to find a place for foot orthotics, the research isn’t likely to turn up that part of the story anytime soon.

<figure><img src="" alt="Runners Feet Interacting With Ground" width="500" Height="333" /></figure>

Photo Credit: PaverKlee Flickr via Compfight cc

Whether we like it or not, we live in a world in which our feet are required to adapt to uneven surfaces.

When all of that arch support is underfoot, your feet are forced to adapt to all of what’s underneath your feet.

So it only makes sense that since your legs, thighs, and pelvic girdle are also supposed to flex at the right time; your feet aren’t the only bones that are forced to adapt to what’s in your shoes.

Reason #2

Which means that foot orthotics allow for even more compensation.  Not only throughout your feet, throughout your entire chain.

As an example, If you’ve ever been fitted for foot orthotics, you were more than likely told that it could take a while for your feet to get used to them.

Translation: Since nothing was done to clear the pre-existing compensations that you walked in with, instead of getting to the source, the “break-in period” ends up being more about your feet and the rest of your chain finding a workaround.

[ Sidebar: If you’re currently relying on foot orthotics; while standing in those shoes, rotate your pelvis to the right. Since motion is being driven from the top-down (think golf swing), you should have felt your *right* foot go more to the outside.

While your *right* foot was going to the outside, your *left* foot should be heading to where the majority of your weight is on the inside of your foot.  But yet, your *left* foot can’t get there.

Now, try the same exercise with no shoes or orthotics.  Without knowing anything about how your muscles are functioning, when nothing but the ground was underneath your feet, I know that you were able to feel more motion throughout both feet.

To take this even further, if you’re playing golf while wearing orthotics, drastically changing the timing in which your feet move from the top-down, also changes how everything from your arms down moves.  Besides making your golf swing less efficient, think about all that your lower back is being forced to take on. ]

“A reliable way of making people believe in falsehoods is frequent repetition, because familiarity is not easily distinguished from truth.”  — Daniel Kahneman, Thinking Fast and Slow

Adding to the inexact science of foot orthotics, at this point in time, I’m thinking that you’ve heard all of the experts making over-pronation and flat feet out to be so bad that both need to be corrected.

<figure><img src="" alt="Heel-Bone-Subtalar-Joint-Leg-Legos-Under-Arch" width="500" Height="250" /></figure>

For more information, hover over this image.

Reason #3

Well, the first thing you’ll want to know is that pronation is completely normal.

In fact, pronation is your bodies ability to absorb shock.  

Think about how your feet have made contact with the ground for all of this time. Then, imagine how at different times throughout those 66 joints, all 56 bones collapse.

To be perfectly clear, on every step, all 56 of the bones throughout your feet are supposed to collapse with gravity.

And that’s how your feet are fully capable of adapting to whatever the surface has to offer.

Whether you’re walking or running, your foot is going to touch down at different times. Which means that whether you land on your heel or your front-foot, the ground is going to do what it always does on planet Earth…it’s going to punch right back.  Just at different times.

So even though you’ve heard the term over-pronation repeated over and over again for way too long, there’s an enormous piece of the puzzle that’s being left out.

See, contrary to popular belief, since your feet are making contact with the ground at different times, no matter what part of your foot touches down first, both end up going in opposite directions.

Opposite directions, meaning that when you get right down to what’s actually occurring, your heel is pronating and your front-foot is supinating.

What happens first is dependent on which area of your foot the ground punches first.

Either way, once your entire foot is in contact with the ground, your foot is pronating and supinating at the same time.

Noteworthy is how with or without custom insoles, being that one region of your foot is pronating while another region is supinating, that makes for a lot of running shoes that don’t compliment the way your feet actually take advantage of motion.


If you want to be able to drive a golf ball a lot further or allow your foot to react to what the grounds going to offer up on every step forward, over the long-haul, you’ll want muscles that are capable of storing as much elastic energy as they possibly can.

As you’ve probably already figured out, custom foot orthotics won’t allow for either one. And truth be told, many (most!) running shoes don’t either.

Reason #4

Foot orthotics are driving your foot away from the pain.

It’s a short-sited approach that doesn’t pull the weed out by its roots (e.g., plantar fasciitis).

This, when what’s most important is improving the ability of your muscles to contract at the right time.  Without any outside crutch.

But you aren’t given that option.  (emphasis added)

If you’ve been told that you have flat feet or that you over-pronate, take a look at your feet when they aren’t in contact with the ground.  Are you seeing an arch?  Whether you can or you can’t, your knees, hips, and back still have to absorb shock on every step.

It’s not uncommon to overpronate on one side.  So if over-pronation is such a bad thing that it needs to be “fixed” on one side, why are the experts forcing both feet to adapt to all of that artificial support?

All of that artificial support that ends up driving your feet and the rest of the bones that make up your lower extremity in the wrong direction at the wrong time.

[ “Root suggested that the subtalar joint was the key joint in the foot but our results indicate that all the joints are equally important in their contribution to foot movement.” ]

Your subtalar joint is super important.  But it should come as no surprise that having optimal motion at every other joint is just as important.  Especially when prior to prescribing foot orthotics, the experts don’t know which muscles are tight from the muscles that are underperforming.

Not only throughout your feet, throughout your entire chain.



A BIG thanks in advance.  🙂

Thanks for taking the time to read this post!  If you enjoyed this post, please subscribe to Engaging Muscles.  You can also like Engaging Muscles on Facebook, subscribe to my YouTube channel or feel free to connect with me on Twitter @rickmerriam.

Books Mentioned (affiliate):

A Beautiful Question: Finding Nature’s Deep Design by Frank Wilczek

LINCHPIN by Seth Godin

The Subtle Art Of Not Giving A F*CK by Mark Manson

Think Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

Photo Credit: gibsonsgolfer Flickr via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Foot Posture Centre Flickr via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: PaverKlee Flickr via Compfight cc

Custom Foot Orthotics; No Better Than Stock Inserts
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Custom Foot Orthotics; No Better Than Stock Inserts
There's no difference between custom foot orthotics and the stock insoles that you'll find in the store. Both drive your feet in the wrong direction at the wrong time.
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Rick Merriam

Owner/Licensed Massage Therapist at Engaging Muscles
I have held a license to practice massage therapy for over 20 years. For the first 18 years of my career, I was a nationally certified personal trainer. During that time, I completed thousands of one-on-one personal training sessions. I went on to teach biomechanics to personal trainers, group exercise instructors, and physical therapists throughout New England. I worked as a sports massage therapist at ESPN. Over the last few years, I have been quoted in Runner’s World UK, Massage Therapy & Bodywork, Massage Magazine, IDEA Fitness Journal, Massage & Fitness Magazine, and The Guardian Liberty Voice. I have also served as an applied biomechanics consultant for the fitness staff at Canyon Ranch, The Greenbrier, and ESPN. For the last 8 years, I've been teaching applied anatomy & kinesiology at Parker University. I have a private sports massage therapy practice in Dallas, Texas.

2 thoughts on “Custom Foot Orthotics; No Better Than Stock Insoles

    • As far as I know, the same principles apply. In other words, no matter the sport, the human chain has to pronate and supinate at the right time. Having said that, a friend of mine has a site where he shares his thoughts on “custom” molded footbeds and how the physics and biomechanics play out with skiing.

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