Orthotics Comparison Chart
Don't Be Fooled, not all orthotics are the same.
"Custom Fit" means you're buying expensive, over-the-counter supports; "Custom Scan" uses pre-made shells that are not actually molded from your feet; "Custom Made" are the only orthotics made from a 3-dimensional cast of your actual foot giving you the best chance of foot pain relief and comfort.
Differences between Custom Fit, Custom Scan, & Custom Cast
Custom Fit Orthotics are typically sold by sales-people who work in arch support outlet stores, some of which are huge nationwide retailers that you may think have merit based on their size and amount of advertising. These salespeople have no actual medical training or experience and just want you to buy the most amount of product/orthotics they can push on you. They often try to sell you 2 or 3 orthotics as a package which may range from $600 to $1000+. Custom-Fit orthotics are pre-made arch supports that come in 5-10 different styles with each style available in 5-16 different lengths which allow for them to fit the pre-made arch to the foot which allowed them to say custom fit. When you think "custom", you may think that the supports are actually made for you, but this is very far from the truth. The only pros of these supports are that they are often made from very durable materials and have support in different regions to really help with some of the problems that people may present. If they were sold for $100 instead of $300-$1000, then the product might be worth the investment. Because these orthotics are not made off of a positive cast of your foot, some people may never get used to them and others may develop problems long term because of the stresses put on parts of their foot and their feet having to conform to the shape of the supports, this is called the break-in period. This could actually break-in your foot to new problems you never would have had otherwise.
Custom-Made Orthotics made from scans of your feet: These orthotics are made from a scan of your feet. Believe it or not, there are two kinds of scans that a provider/fabricator can use to male orthotics out of.
- Walking/Gait scanned orthotics are most often used by chiropractors, podiatrists, and other medical professionals. These scans are taken as you walk across a pad that measures the weight of your pressure points, weight distribution, and arch height giving you an overall footprint. This scan cannot measure the topography (different heights and elevations) of the foot and arches, only measuring the parts of your foot that hit the pad as you walk across it. With this type of scan, you cannot make a truly 3-dimensional orthotic device since the footprint or pedograph is a 2D image. The easiest orthotics to make with these scans are made of premade orthotics shells and customized to the wearer's problems. The other scan-made orthotics are made from different premade supports (scaphoid, cuboid, metatarsal, and heel pads) put together in between different layers of materials, usually leather, to be cut into a 3/4 or full-length orthotics. There are companies that will use your scans and use a premade shell and cover them with materials such as leather or foams in order to make the 3/4 or full-length orthotics. Both of these are not actually custom made, I consider these types of orthotics to be Custom-Put-Together orthotics. The benefit with these orthotics is that they are more likely to be comfortable to the wearer with minimal break-in or adjustments and fit or dispensed by some sort of a medical provider that may have had the customization made to the specifics of the patient or customer foot problems. The cost is usually decent and follow-up services are always good when you're dealing with the medical community.
- 3D Scanned Orthotics are made from the newest of the technologies and there have been a lot of people jumping on the bandwagon of 3D printed or scanned orthotics. You will have to go to a Medical or trained professional to be able to get scanned properly. These orthotics are usually made off of a 3D scan of a patient or customer's foot in a neutral and non-weight-bearing position. The medical professional will make the scan after an evaluation and possible diagnosis of the problem or at least checking things out thoroughly. After that, a scan is taken on your foot using a special wand or even a cell-phone or tablet. The scans are sent to the fabrication center where the employees are CAD/CAM trained to make these orthotics. Because of a diagnosis and doctor recommendation, the orthotics are usually on point with support and the way they take care of your problems. The cons are that the materials are usually softer (accommodative) material that doesn't last a long time, maybe a year or two before breakage and breakdown of the materials can occur. There are some companies that use hard and functional materials like various medical-grade plastics that offer more support. If made correctly these can address a number of problems, last a long time, and be worth the investment. The only negatives would be that sometimes companies will use a scan of your foot and make an orthotic off of a premade shaped shell that closely matches your foot scan, so it will be close to your foot but still not actually custom made. It then becomes Custom Put-Together again.
Custom-Made of Cast Orthotics are made off of a subtalar neutral position, non or semi-weight bearing foot cast using plaster, foam impression boxes or resin-impregnated socks. All of these together will give you a 3-dimensional positive foot model of your best arch position to make your orthotics. This is important because you can take any materials, plastics, foams, and leathers, heat them up and vacuum press them against the mold of the foot to have a completely custom made orthotic of your foot.
These orthotics can be made into a range of different orthotics from hard functional controlling devices for flexible or over-pronation problems, to soft and accommodative orthotics for sensitive foot problems. You would have to go to a specialist such as a Pedorthist, Podiatrist, or another medical professional in order for this to be done properly. You will often get an examination or evaluation of your feet and get the most information you can to determine the best way to make the orthotic in order to address the patient's or customer's foot problems. Pedorthists are often the people in a fabrication lab who supervise the fabrication for quality and accuracy and often make their own orthotics for patients and customers.
Going straight to a Certified Pedorthist is the best way to get a truly custom made orthotic that will give you the best chance of solving your foot leg and back problems. Pedorthists also pay attention to problems in not just your feet but from your whole body. If you're having problems with your knees, hips, back, posture, balance, or stability, a pedorthist can often evaluate and see all the possible solutions to your problem then pick out the best option which will give you the biggest chance of success in solving the problems.
It is always recommended to seek the advice of a doctor or medical professional that can diagnose and give a prescription for the orthotics as a Certified Pedothist can not diagnose, prescribe, or perform surgeries.