Off-the-Shelf or Custom-Made? Which type of orthotics is right for me?

pt HealthBack pain, Foot pain, Knee pain, Orthotics, Pain Relief

This article was written by Chelsea Komar, a McMaster University PT student working on placement with Paulette Gardiner Millar.

When looking at what kind of orthotics to get, there are two main types of foot orthotics: off-the-shelf or custom-made. Off-the shelf-orthotics can be bought at the local drugstore, whereas custom-made orthotics can be purchased at a foot care clinic or some rehabilitation clinics.

How do you know which type of orthotics is right for you? Let’s take a closer look at the two.


This type of orthotic has a similar appearance to a custom orthotics, with an arch and cushion material but does not actually do much for supporting the foot. Due to the pliable material, small bouts of force such as pressing down with your fingers can flatten the orthotic. With a person’s full body weight, the orthotic material does not spring back, will fatigue and may only help for a week or two.

When the control of motion is needed, a softer material, typically found in off-the-shelf orthotics, may not be the best choice; however, these might be ideal if you’re looking for an orthotic to control mild biomechanical imbalances.

As mentioned, off-the-shelf orthotics have a relatively short lifespan. If your injury or condition is something more acute, a short-term solution like an off-the-shelf orthotic might be more ideal than custom-made.

Off-the-shelf orthotics are available in a variety of materials and brands, which might be confusing. Just like any product that you can purchase without a prescription or referral, each type is trying to portray itself as the best one to buy.

It is important to read the fine details and research which orthotic will actually suit your problems. This is where patient education comes into play. This can be a good topic to discuss with your healthcare practitioner to ensure you’re not wasting your money or purchasing a product that may do more harm than good, because the package was flashy or it was on sale.


Custom-made orthotics are made of a semi-rigid material that springs back up against a person’s body weight to correct and support the feet. This support can help with the biomechanics and alleviate stress on affected joints and the back. Due to the advanced material, custom-made orthotics will last longer than off-the-shelf products and provide support for a few years instead of weeks.

The increased rigidity and design of custom-made orthotics have proven to limit foot mobility and raise the arch of the foot to provide relief of stress on the soft tissue of the plantar aspect of the foot.

The level of complexity of the issue can also be an important factor to consider. It is thought that a more complicated foot problem may benefit from custom-made orthotics, while a simpler issue may benefit from off-the-shelf orthotics.

Custom orthotics are specifically made for a person’s foot; off-the-shelf orthotics are made to a specific condition. Therefore, if you have factors to consider beyond a diagnosis, custom orthotics may be the better choice to target the entire problem.

So which type of orthotic should I choose?

It depends! Every person is unique and my benefit from either option and evidence shows both types have beneficial outcomes.

Overall, off-the-shelf orthotics provide comfort within a shoe but may not provide structural support for the foot. However, they are an excellent alternative if you are looking for a temporary solution for a short-term problem. Custom-made orthotics provide better long-term support and help with more complex problems to correct malalignment.

If you have questions about what type of orthotic is most suitable for you or are interested in getting custom-made orthotics, find a pt Health clinic near you! We’re here to help find the best solution for you.

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