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Need more shoe support? Podiatrists share tips for finding the best insoles

There are a few qualities to look out for when purchasing an insole.
Mariya Lvova / EyeEm / Getty Images

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Back-to-school season is here and it's about that time where we start planning on trading in sandals for boots and other trendy fall footwear. Regardless of the shoes you plan on wearing, though, they should benefit the overall health of your feet.

If you struggle with foot pain, now might be a good time to think of ways you can take care of your feet — like investing in a pair of insoles.

"Having the proper foot and ankle support in your shoes will help to reduce pain, support proper foot alignment, and keep you comfortable," Jacqueline M. Sutera, DPM, told Shop TODAY. "Inserts help to reduce excessive pronation, which is a contributing factor to 'flat feet'."

But which is the right insert for your feet, and better yet, do you need them? We spoke to podiatrists about how to choose inserts and who would benefit the most from having them.

How to choose shoe insoles

There are two types of inserts: those that you can purchase over the counter or at the store, and those that you need a custom consultation for, Dr. Bonnie Chien, an orthopedic surgeon at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center specializing in foot and ankle conditions, said.

If you don't want to break your bank with a custom insert, opting for a store-bought insole might be a more accessible option. There are a few qualities to look out for when purchasing an insole on your own, though.

"You want to look for materials that are semi-resistant, materials that actually provide support," New York-based podiatrist Ernest L. Isaacson, DPM PC said. "You want something that actually contours the arch and resists bending."

Isaacson notes that people with a higher arch will "do better with a less-rigid type of insert." They should also look for an insert that will contour the arch and bring the ground up in essence. On the other hand, those with flat feet might want an insole with a bit more structure.

"Shoe inserts come in many different styles and materials," Sutera said. "The type that is best varies from one person to another and really does depend on the shoe and activity as well. That being said, in general, I think materials that are semi-rigid or semi-flexible, like graphite with a cushioned topcover made from Poron or EVA are durable, comfortable and give the most support without so much bulk."

Who needs shoe inserts?

Not everyone may need shoe insoles.

"I think typically, if somebody is doing totally fine in their regular shoe, I don't think you have to get an orthotic or an insert, whether it is custom or over the counter," Chien said. "I think it's mainly for comfort, like accommodation of somebody's foot or sort of functional support."

"I see foot arch, for example, like a spectrum, like hair. Like curly hair and straight hair. So, some people have really curly hair and it may be that sometimes they have to take care of their hair a little bit more," Chien added. "And, in some similar way, like with flat feet, some people have really flat arches and that can sometimes be more of an issue that they have to focus on."

For those who do need inserts, we asked podiatrists for their recommendations for shoe inserts and rounded them up below, so you can treat your feet with care.

Best shoe inserts, according to podiatrists

Spenco Polysorb Cross Trainer

Dr. Tracey Vlahovic, clinical professor of podiatry at Temple University in Philadelphia, recommends these insoles from Spenco, especially for those with generalized foot pain or conditions such as plantar fasciitis.

"I recommend the full length version and always remind patients to wear them in both shoes —sometimes people think you should only wear them on the foot that is painful — and to remove the sock liners in the sneakers prior to placing the insoles in the shoes," Vlahovic said.

Redi-Thotics Flex Orthotic Insoles

Sutera recommends insoles from Redi-Thotics for foot pain. They're made with a foam base, a plush top layer and extra cushion for comfort and stabilization, the brand says.

"If you have a flatter arch type foot, increased arch support can help to reduce the likelihood of plantar fasciitis and offer pain relief," Sutera said. "Sometimes, however, custom made orthotics may be necessary which can be made by your podiatrist."

Superfeet Green Insoles

Sutera also likes this popular option from Superfeet, which makes several kinds of insoles for different sports and athletic needs. The "green" inserts are made with a high-density foam that can be trimmed to fit into your shoes. With a stabilizer cap, a deep heel cup and the signature Superfeet shape, they help with natural shock absorption and offer comfort, the brand says.

Spenco Rx Orthotic Insole

Whether you enjoy running or leisurely walks, comfort is key when it comes to your feet. Sutera recommends these insoles from Spenco for enhanced arch support.

"Choose an insert that is durable, thin and supportive," Sutera said. "Take the original flat insole out of the sneaker that it came with and replace it with one with more arch support."

Bestselling shoe inserts

We also found some shoe inserts that shoppers are loving right now, in addition to the expert picks above.

Basmile Shoe Insoles

Add some soft and lightweight support with these memory foam insoles. According to the brand, the mesh fabric offers more air circulation which helps keep your feel smelling fresh instead of trapping sweat and stench in the material. They can also be trimmed as needed to secure the best possible fit.

Dr. Scholl's Heavy Duty Support Orthotics

These heavy-duty support inserts are designed to support people over 200 pounds. According to the brand, the arch guard and shock guard technology distribute weight and reduce impact as a means to relieve lower back pain and foot and leg fatigue. One very active reviewer said they were skeptical at first because of the low price point, but were pleasantly surprised and planned to order more for other pairs of shoes.

Dr. Scholl's Energizing Comfort Massaging Gel Insoles

The massaging gel on the insoles are meant to keep your legs and feet feeling energized so you can stay on the move as long as you need to with as little pain as possible. One verified five-star Amazon reviewer said these insoles made almost every pair of their unsupportive and uncomfortable shoes a feasible option for an entire day spent on their feet.

Walk Hero Comfort and Support Insoles

The current bestselling shoe insert on Amazon, this insole is made with three layers of foam and cushioned material to keep feet cool and comfortable. They're suitable for a wide range of activities and reviewers have awarded them over 43,000 verified five-star reviews.

Dr. Scholl's Comfort & Energy Work Massaging Gel Advanced Insoles

These inserts are the second bestselling insert on Amazon right now, with over 44,000 verified five-star reviews from shoppers. According to the brand, they're designed for people who work on hard surfaces all day and help to provide extras cushioning as well as arch support. They can be worn in most work boots, casual shoes and sneakers.

PowerStep Pinnacle Insoles

PowerStep's insoles have garnered more than 14,000 verified five-star reviews from Amazon shoppers. Currently, they rank among the top 10 shoe insoles on the site and reviewers have praised them for their arch support.

"Love the arch support and heel cradle," wrote one verified reviewer. "Have been wearing them in my walking shoes for weeks and very comfy."

Currex RunPro Insole

If your favorite shoes just don't feel as comfortable anymore, these insoles from Currex can replace the existing liners in your shoe or you can order a half-size up if you are adding an additional layer, according to the brand. Currex's insoles are available in three different styles: high, low and medium profiles, and in six different sizes, ranging from XS to XXL.

Spenco Rx Comfort Insole

This budget-friendly option offers a comfortable stretch and is crafted with an antimicrobial coating that helps prevent odor. While it might not feature as much cushion as other insoles, it is a perfect option for anyone who prefers a thin layer with just enough comfort. They've earned over 2,000 verified five-star reviews from Amazon shoppers, who praise them for the cushion they provide in flat shoes.

Superfeet Carbon Lightweight Support Insoles

Superfeet's Carbon insoles are made with a carbon fiber-reinforced stabilizer and an ultralight foam layer. They provide support along the bones in your feet to help reduce pain and stress and relieve common problems. Since they are lightweight, they can easily slip into your favorite shoe or sneaker to upgrade the footbed.

Brison Soft Gel Insole

Can't wait to dig your wedges and open-backed mules out of the closet? These adhesive inserts can add some cushion and absorb shock on the ball of your foot to prevent pain. While full-size inserts are typically recommended by experts, these cushions have still racked up rave reviews. Though, they are hard to transition between shoes, so stocking up on a few packs can save your feet no matter what pair of sandals you wear.