When you have a type of heel pain known as plantar fasciitis, you may hear that getting a custom-made orthotic (an insole molded to your heel or your whole foot) can help ease your agony. But a study published online March 19, 2018, by the British Journal of Sports Medicine suggests that custom orthotics — which can run a few hundred dollars — are no more helpful than less expensive over-the-counter versions, which cost about $20 or less. Plantar fasciitis is an inflammation of the plantar fascia, a band of tissue that extends along the bottom of the foot from the heel to the toes. It's associated with flat feet, a lack of flexibility, and overuse. Researchers analyzed 20 randomized controlled studies (the gold standard in research) that included about 1,800 people and eight different types of foot orthotics. Scientists found no difference in short-term pain relief among people who used custom-made orthotics compared with people who used store-bought versions. They also found that orthotics weren't better at relieving pain or improving function compared with other treatments for heel pain, such as stretching, wearing a heel brace, or using a splint at night. Plantar fasciitis often gets better with time as well as rest, ice, over-the-counter painkillers, and exercises to improve calf strength.
As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content. Please note the date of last review or update on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.