How Much Should Prefabricated and Custom Foot Orthotics Cost?
This post is designed to help you understand the different types of foot orthotics that are on the market and provide guidelines for fair pricing for each type.
First, it is important to understand the different types of foot orthotics that are available to purchase
There are four general groups of orthotics at different price points:
- Prefabricated Orthotics
- Modified Prefabricated Orthotics
- Heat Molded Prefabricated Orthotics
- Custom Foot Orthotics
We will review each of these, but it is important to understand that one type is not necessarily better than another type. All of them have advantages and disadvantages.
Sometimes a $40 prefabricated orthotic will be all that is needed to cure a foot problem. Sometimes a $500 custom orthotic is necessary. This is analogous to eyeglasses – sometimes $20 readers will suffice and sometimes prescription eyeglasses are necessary.
Our standard rule is this: Use the least expensive orthotic that will provide 100% of the potential relief of your foot pain.
Below we will review each type of orthotic and when possible will make specific recommendations. We will also tell you which types of orthotics that we think you should avoid because they are either not effective or are over-priced.
Prefabricated Orthotics: $40 to $65
Prefabricated foot orthotics (often called “Off-the-shelf orthotics” or “arch supports”) are foot orthotics that are simply purchased and then put into your shoes. They are designed to provide gentle support to the arch of the foot and help spread weight more evenly along the bottom of the foot. They are not as supportive as well-made custom orthotics but they can work well for a lot of people at less cost than custom. Prefabricated orthotics can be found in retail stores, doctors’ offices and online.
There are many (and we mean MANY) different prefabricated foot orthotics on the market. Like everything else, some are better than others. And one brand might work well for your feet while another brand works well for your friend’s feet.
Quality off-the-shelf orthotics usually cost $40.00 – $70.00. You should be able to find an exceptional over-the-counter arch support for no more than about $50.
There are so many prefabricated orthotics on the market that it can be very difficult to determine what is the best choice for any particular person and also which are a good value.
Our Recommended Prefabricated Orthotics
You can use our Guide to Prefabricated Orthotics to find our current recommendations for specific foot types, foot conditions and shoe types. This list is constantly updated as new devices come onto the market.
Prefabricated Orthotics to Avoid
Avoid Orthotics From “Arch Support Stores”
Avoid paying more than $65 for any prefabricated orthotics. The very worst value in prefabricated orthotics (in our opinion) are those sold at specialty “Arch Support Stores”. These stores advertise heavily on radio and TV and charge hundreds of dollars for arch supports that are, in our opinion, are inferior to arch supports that will cost you no more than about $60. It is our opinion that these are a scam and you should avoid them at all costs.
Avoid Orthotics from Pharmacies
All of the orthotics from pharmacies that we have seen (including those recommended by standing on a machine) are so soft and flexible that they provide essentially no support. For the same price or less you can find many superior prefabricated orthotics.
Modified Prefabricated Orthotics: $65 – $120
In this situation a prefabricated orthotic is modified to work better to treat a specific foot condition. This is something we do in our clinic daily. For example, if a patient has pain in their big toe joint from a bunion we will add specific wedges and pads to the prefabricated orthotic to reduce pressure in the big toe joint.
Some common in-office modifications are seen in the pictures.
To this well requires time, skill and materials. For reference, in our clinic we charge $8.00 for each modification that we do. On average we might do two modifications per foot so our patients would be spending an additional $32.00 on top of the charge for the prefabricated orthotics. If they spent $50 for the orthotics then they are looking at a total in the $80 – $90 range for the modified prefabricated orthotics.
This can be a great value to get an orthotic that is designed specifically to treat your foot problem at much less cost than a custom orthotic.
On the downside, this modified prefabricated orthotic will not last as long as a well made custom orthotic. On average a prefabricated orthotic will last about one year and a custom orthotic (if well made) can last 5 -10 years.
Who Should Modify Your Orthotics?
Modifying orthotics should only be done by experienced medical practitioners. Podiatrists who are skilled at orthotic therapy will do the best job. Not all podiatrists, by the way, are skilled with orthotics. Also some pedorthists are skilled at orthotic modifications. Pedorthists are often found working in specialty shoe stores.
Heat Molded Prefabricated Orthotics – “Custom Insoles” – About $80
These devices are often found in specialty running shoe stores and sometimes marketed as a custom insole.
In this situation a pair of arch supports is heated and then your foot is placed on them to create a custom contour to your foot.
The problem we find with these orthotics is that in order to be heat moldable, the material they are made from has to be fairly flexible. So the same feature that allows them to be heat molded also causes them to flatten out very quickly. In addition, most are so flexible that they provide less support than many non-heat moldable prefabricated orthotics.
The cost is about $30 more than the best prefabricated orthotics. We don’t think that these heat-molded custom insoles fill any niche. For $30 to $40 less you can find a good prefabricated orthotic that will provide more support and last longer.
You can use our Guide to Prefabricated Orthotics to find constantly updated recommendations for specific foot types, foot conditions and shoe types.
Custom Foot Orthotics – $400 – $600
Custom foot orthotics are a weirdly complicated subject. The reality is that
when done well, they are often the best treatment available for many foot problems, offering better outcomes and much better lifespan than any prefabricated orthotic solution.
Because many custom orthotics are made from very long-lasting materials they also are often the least expensive option over time. Most prefabricated orthotics will start to wear out in 6 -12 months while some custom orthotics can last more than a decade.
Custom orthotics, when done right, are prescribed in a manner to reduce the forces that are causing a specific problem. For example, if you are flat footed, the motion of your foot can put tension on your plantar fascia and your posterior tibial tendon – the orthotics for these conditions should be designed to decrease that abnormal tension. This is why they can work so much better than prefabricated orthotics – they can be prescribed to treat your specific problem and foot type.
The quality and effectiveness of custom orthotics is most dependent on the training, skill and experience of the practitioner who prescribes your orthotics for you. This is where the problems occur, however, as it can be surprisingly difficult to find skilled orthotic practitioners.
Here are some questions you should ask to find out if a particular podiatrist is an expert in custom foot orthotics:
- Does the doctor have specialized training in orthotic therapy?
- If I get orthotics from you, can you adjust them in your clinic or do they need to be shipped back to the manufacturer for adjustment? This one is critical. Some orthotics need adjustment in order to provide maximum benefit and comfort. It is not possible to provide exceptional orthotic therapy without the ability to modify orthotics on-site.
- Will the doctor take the image of my foot or a staff member? Look for clinics where the doctor takes the image. The position the foot is held in while getting an image is critical to ensure the best outcomes. The doctor is best trained to perform this important procedure.
- Do you guarantee comfort of my orthotics? While orthotics are usually a portion of a complete treatment plan and clinical outcomes from orthotics alone cannot be guaranteed, the clinic should be able to guarantee that the orthotics will be comfortable for you.
If you get appropriate answers to all of these questions then the price of $400 – $600 is fair for a pair of custom foot orthotics. In our clinic we charge $498 and we have a nationwide reputation as experts in orthotic therapy.
The subject of custom orthotic therapy is very involved. You can learn a lot more at the following links:
- Orthotics for Specific Conditions
- Orthotics for Specific Sports
- Guide to Prefabricated Orthotics
- Guide to Custom Orthotics
- Why Us for Your Orthotics
We hope that this has been helpful in helping you to determine what type of orthotic provides the best value. Please let us know if you have any questions.