From the toes to the heels, the balls of the feet to the arches, we ask the experts how insoles can form part of your foot pain soothing plan

Whether it's burning in the balls of your feet after a long day, tenderness from heel spurs after shuffling around the house in slippers, or some other foot discomfort – we’ve all been in those (painful-fitting) shoes.

In fact, it’s estimated that 17 to 30% of us suffer from foot pain. With 26 bones and over 30 small joints, it’s easy to see why this complex body part can sometimes need a little extra care.

Insoles may be a way to help provide some welcome support, so we ask two of the leading experts in the field of foot health to talk us through what they are and how they may be able to help a range of different types of pain.

What are the common causes of foot pain?

In short, it’s hard to put your finger (or toe) on the exact cause of foot pain. ”Feet can suffer from a lack of mobility and a poor resting posture, leading to a whole host of symptoms and diagnoses,” explains Gary Ward, creator of Anatomy in Motion and author of What The Foot?.

“The bottom line is that people’s feet hurt. Some feel stiff in the morning when they get out of bed, have achy heels after standing at work all day or pinching and pulling pains as they go about their day.”

Alex Clark, in-house physiotherapist for Neo G explains: “Some common causes for foot pain are direct trauma, foot deformity that’s either from birth or develops over time, a large increase in activity from a period of limited or no activity, poorly fitted shoes and being overweight.”

And what happens in the foot can cause a chain reaction for pain further up the body. “The foot’s position can directly impact on ankle flexion and put pressure on the knees and affect the hips and spine,” Gary begins.

“A foot that cannot move makes it difficult for the knee to perform its function as well. This is also true for the hip and lower back.

“In all cases of foot, knee and hip pain, it’s incredibly important to consider the foundations upon which we move and walk: the feet.”

Insoles are designed to provide additional cushioning and a form of shock absorption for the bottom of your feet.”

What are insoles and orthotics, and what are the differences between them?

While they might look similar on the shelf, insoles and orthotics are designed to do different things. Orthotics were traditionally prescribed (with a bespoke fit for an individual’s foot) by a medical professional, but standard sizes can now be purchased off the shelf.

“They’re designed to manage a medical issue, such as fallen arches, or for specific conditions such as plantar fasciitis (pain on the bottom of your foot, around your heel and arch) and will often be constructed from a harder material than an insole, aiming to react and realign your feet and redistribute pressure. They can feel uncomfortable during an initial adjustment period.

“Insoles are designed to provide additional cushioning and a form of shock absorption for the bottom of your feet. There’s probably an insole already in your shoe that can be removed and replaced by something comfier.”

Can insoles help with foot pain?

If you have foot pain, insoles can help make your shoes far more comfortable. However, as with most things, they form only part of the puzzle when it comes to foot pain relief. Other useful things to consider include:

• Wearing supportive shoes with cushioned heel support

• Avoiding high heels, tight shoes, flip-flops and backless slippers

• Avoiding walking or standing for long periods of time

• Doing regular gentle stretching movements and low-impact exercises

• Trying to lose weight if overweight

• Elevating the foot when possible

• Avoiding walking barefoot

• Applying an ice pack on the painful area for up to 20 minutes every two to three hours

• Pain relief, such as paracetamol and ibuprofen, if suitable for you

(although it’s recommended not to take ibuprofen for the the first 48 hours for some types of foot pain)

What are insoles and orthotics made from?

“Orthotics are made from a variety of materials including acrylic, polypropylene, fibreglass, EVA, cork, and foam,” Gary tells us. “Rigidity and flexibility in certain areas are key to allow the foot to react to the support.

“Some areas may need more rigidity while other areas need some flexibility and this is all helping the foot to minimise its limitations and maximise its opportunity.”

Insoles can be made from materials such as foam, cork and gel. A common misconception is that they all need to be cushioned, Alex explains. “While gel provides instant comfort for insoles, support is what’s needed for true healthier foot function.

“An analogy that describes this well is if you imagine jumping on solid ground, all the structures in the foot are working correctly and allow you to propel into the air.

“Compare this to jumping on sand, as you press into the floor there is less support and therefore the structures in your foot are required to work much harder. Without the adequate support, it’s likely you wouldn’t be able to jump as high.”

As a result, you’ll often find insoles that range from softer options like self-adhesive pads to full-length ones with extra firmness, to cater for a variety of different needs.

While gel provides instant comfort for insoles, support is what’s needed for true healthier foot function.”

How long do insoles last?

According to the NHS, while a broad range of materials are used to make insoles and orthotics, as a general rule, they should last about 12 months with proper care.

Care for them as per the product instructions and replace them if they begin to show signs of wear and tear or they break.

When to see a GP

If the foot pain is so bad that it’s stopping you from doing your normal activities, reoccurs, gets worse even after treating it yourself for around two weeks or you experience tingling or numbness in your foot, book in with a GP for further support.

It’s also important to note that if you have diabetes, foot problems shouldn’t be left unaddressed, so involving a GP as early as possible is highly advisable. People with diabetes should also see a podiatrist every 12 months, regardless of whether there are any current foot issues.

Boots edit: 6 of the best insoles for foot pain to consider

If you’re interested in trying an insole to help ease foot pain or discomfort, we’re curated six great options for a range of different concerns as a first step.

For more advice for how to choose the right insole for your particular needs, pop into your local Boots store to have a chat with a pharmacist.

Shop more top insoles in our full range.

Best for foot comfort

Try: Boots Super Comfort Insoles

• Contains two pairs

• Cut-to-size

• Fits shoe sizes 2-12

These cut-to-size insoles are great for adding a little extra spring in your step. Designed to be trimmed to size along the printed guidelines to fit shoe sizes 2 to 12. Simply slip into your shoe, fabric side up, for an instant soft layer of cushioning foam and all day comfort with a durable polycotton top layer.

Best for arch and plantar support

Try: Neo G NeoThotics Pro-Expert 3/4 Length Orthotic Insoles

• Anatomical design

• Suits a range of footwear

Designed by leading podiatrists to provide biomechanical support, the full-contact Tru-Arch support aids pain caused by flat feet, fallen arches and symptoms of plantar fasciitis. Plus, its deep heel cup helps support the heel and provides ankle stability. Working with your entire footwear wardrobe, they provide shock absorption, cushioning and comfort.

Best insoles to help ease ball of foot pain

Try: Boots Ball of Foot Pads

• Helps to protect from friction. 

• Hypoallergenic self-adhesive pads.

When you’re planning to be on your feet all day, your soles may need a little cushioning to feel comfortable and help avoid calluses and painful areas. These hypoallergenic and self-adhesive felt pads work to protect the ball of the foot from the friction caused when walking, standing and running, to help relieve discomfort, pressure and hard skin building up.

Best to help ease arch pain

Try: Scholl Arch Pain Relief Insoles

• Fits most shoe types

These comfortable stress absorbers help provide relief for the lower-body discomfort associated with foot-arch pain. They provide gentle support to the arch and reduce pressure caused by flattening. A raised dome cushions the balls of the feet and helps stabilise the foot’s position when walking.

Best shock absorbers

Try: Boots Pharmaceuticals Advanced Footcare Pressure Relief Insoles

• Cut-to-size, up to size 11

• Helps reduce food odour

Designed to deliver top-level comfort and performance, via superior shock absorption, to reduce foot pain and fatigue. These cut-to-size, durable insoles also help reduce lingering foot odour. Made from an innovative open-cell material – keeping feet cool and dry – and an antibacterial and antimicrobial-treated top cover, foot odour doesn’t stand a chance.

Best insoles to help ease heel pain

Try: Scholl Plantar Fasciitis Pain Relief Insoles

• 3-in-1 action

This trifecta of contour-to-foot pressure relief, including shock absorption, stabilisation and pressure redistribution, helps provide heel and arch support that helps alleviate the pain associated with plantar fasciitis. They may require a break-in period to feel comfortable, and to ensure they fit well, remove your existing insole if needed and trim the end.