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  • Writer's pictureMichael Liougas

What’s the Difference Between Orthotics and Orthopedic Shoes?

The simplest answer is that orthotics are insoles placed inside your shoe, while orthopedic shoes are actual shoes that offer a combination of foot and ankle support not dependent on any added inserts. You need only slip them on to feel the benefits. Orthotic insoles must be added to regular shoes, shoes that do not have the special design of orthopedic shoes. So, what’s the difference between orthotics and orthopedic shoes? Let’s explore a side-by-side comparison.

Custom orthotics vs. orthopedic shoes

There are several options to treat a variety of foot maladies nowadays, with shoe inserts being a popular remedy. Dr. Scholl's insoles we're used to seeing in stores namely offer cushioning and shock-absorption, rather than the pain-alleviation custom shoe insoles can claim.

Custom orthotic insoles are also used to alleviate pain from a broad range of causes, like plantar fasciitis, poor arch support, and painful bony growths near the toes.

Orthopedic shoes have similar benefits to custom insoles including pain reduction. Orthopedic shoes are designed with the intention to help stabilize and cushion sensitive feet. This in turn reduces pain in the ankles, legs, hips, and spine.

Whats the difference between orthotics and orthopedic shoes?

Orthopedic Shoes: Key Characteristics

Orthopedic shoes differ from regular shoes because they are custom-designed for people with foot ailments and pains. The average individual can likely find acceptable comfort in standard shoes, but for those with a deformity, severe foot injury, large bunions, or a serious condition that affects the feet, orthopedic shoes are the best way to go. Mobility can falter as individuals reduce walking and movement due to the pain and discomfort of their shoes. Here's a quick list of all the attributes of orthopedic shoes:

  • Wide toe area to accommodate bunions, growths, or discomfort around or between toes. The toe area is also deeper than standard shoes, alleviating excess pressure from the toes.

  • Deep heel area to better support the heel, ankle, leg, hips, and spine.

  • Removable shoe liners, in case you'd want to add an insole for greater comfort.

  • Increased shock absorption. A thick, padded sole allows for painless steps and increased mobility as walking and standing become less painful.

  • Seamless inner design to absolve any irritation. There's nothing for your feet to rub on that may cause pain.

  • Firm base to support your heel and correct your gait. A firmer sole helps prevent excessive bending of the foot, which can exasperate foot conditions or cause discomfort and soreness. This also helps support the Achilles tendon and the plantar fascia.

  • Lastly, orthopedic shoes are easy to put on and take off. They are designed for those who may suffer from arthritis or other conditions that affect cognitive abilities.

The overarching theme of the orthopedic shoe's abilities is one of extended comfort and stability. With areas of the feet supported or stabilized, other areas of the body will prosper in turn. Our feet bear the brunt of walking and standing, and if those key motions are done improperly, the often painful effects will travel up through our bodies.

Orthopedic shoes help correct those issues from the ground up. And despite what foot ailment you may be suffering from, choosing a pair of orthopedic shoes that can correct more than just your issue is not something to worry about. There's no such thing as too much support and stability for your feet.

Pros of orthopedic shoes:

  • Accommodative to a variety of foot issues.

  • Helps increase mobility in walking and standing.

  • The broad extent of comfort-more than just the foot.

  • Orthopedic shoes can be a cheaper option when compared to custom orthopedic insoles.


  • There are limited style options for orthopedic shoes, which may be an issue for those needing a specific shoe style to match a dress code.

  • Expensive. Orthopedic shoes cost much more than an average pair of sneakers, with costs between $100 and $800. The price depends on if you need a custom pair or can get away with store-bought.

Orthotics: Key Traits

Orthotics are insoles added to regular shoes to make them more comfortable and stable. The blue and squishy Dr. Scholl's insoles seen in stores are typically designed to cushion the feet and absorb shock. These types of orthotics can be beneficial for those on their feet all day but are not intended for those with more complex medical issues.

dr. scholl's insert is not as good as custom orthotics

For someone with moderate to severe foot pain, Dr. Scholl's won't cut it. To reduce pain and counterbalance the areas that need support, insoles are custom designed to fit your exact needs. At Global Health Physiotherapy Clinic, we do a thorough assessment to identify the key areas that need support.

Gait Scan technology scans the feet to pinpoint where support is needed

Posture, both standing and walking are evaluated as well as your gait and the shape of your feet. Gait Scan is state-of-the-art technology that pinpoints the exact places on your foot that require support. A mould is then made of your feet and sent with the recommended adjustments to be cast into custom orthotics.

The actual mould, of the foot the cast and the custom insole

Here's a quick list of the attributes of insoles:

  • Insoles help comfort and treat problems of the feet, like unstable weight distribution, falling arches, painful pressure points, and poor toe support.

  • An added layer of shock absorption and support for your feet.

  • Convenient to add to different pairs of shoes--the support you need isn't limited to one pair of shoes.

  • Can be custom designed to your feet (or singular foot).

The bottom line regarding insoles is that they are an added bonus to shoes, offering stability and support to the bottom of your feet. They lack some of the capabilities of orthopedic shoes, but for those with more concise foot ailments, insoles may be the perfect route for you.

Pros of orthotic insoles:

  • Relatively cheap. Custom insoles are expensive, but that option may not be necessary for you.

  • You can add them to shoes you already own.

  • Insoles can help treat more specific issues, like high arches or pinched toes--meaning you won't be buying anything you don't need.


  • Insoles typically don't offer the same extended support as an orthopedic shoe.

  • They can wear out fast. Depending on the quality of your insoles, they may not last as long as other options.

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