Orthotics, Insoles & Inserts — What's the Difference?

Are orthotics, insoles and inserts all terms that mean the same thing?

Spoiler alert: Yes...for the most part. 

Most of the differences in terminology can be attributed to geographic colloquialisms.  Just like people in the Midwest might call a can of Coca-Cola a pop while East Coasters may refer to it as a soda, synonyms for insoles are used interchangeably in various areas of the country. 

However, there are subtle differences in some of the terms used to describe the piece of material that connects you to your shoe. To help iron out confusion, here's a little glossary of commonly-used terms.

Factory liners or sockliners

This term typically describes the layer of fabric or foam that's already in your shoe when you purchase it — it's the part in between the wearer's foot and the midsole of the shoes. Sockliners may be affixed to the footwear, or completely removable.  Note: if the sockliner of your shoe won't come out, choose a slim-fitting Superfeet insole or a Superfeet that isn't full length and place it right on top of the sockliner. 

Insoles

Some people use the term insole and factory liner interchangeably, describing the piece of fabric or foam that comes with your shoe. Like mentioned above, some insoles are removable, making them easy to replace, and some are permanently affixed. However, we at Superfeet use the term insole to describe an aftermarket addition to your shoe, used to enhance comfort, pain relief or performance. Insoles are typically made in either full length sizes, or in three-quarter length sizes to fit in slimmer-fitting footwear.

Superfeet green hiking insole being put into a pair of outdoor hiking shoesSuperfeet green hiking insole being put into a pair of outdoor hiking shoes

Footbeds

Ahh, a little mattress for your foot. Sounds cozy, doesn't it? Shoemakers will sometimes call their factory liners footbeds to imply they have added cushioning. Alternatively, people also use this term to describe aftermarket additions to footwear, just like insoles. Sometimes people also use the term footbed to describe a sandal or shoe that has built-in shape and cushioning.

Shoe Inserts

Another term basically synonymous with insole, but typically used to describe the aftermarket variety. Insert into shoe and off you go.

Arch Supports

See above. People often use this as a synonym for shoe insert, insole or even footbed. Sometimes the term arch supports is used to describe a device that isn't full length, stopping just short of the forefoot.

Orthotics

A term most often used to describe medical devices prescribed or recommended by podiatrists or healthcare professionals for the treatment of foot pain. People sometimes the word orthotics in the same way that they use insoles, footbeds, shoe inserts and arch supports, meaning they can be purchased over the counter, without a prescription. (Note: If you want to get really technical, the word orthotic is a officially an adjective so it should have another word next to it, like orthotic device or orthotic support. Over time, popular use of the term has made the use of the word orthotics acceptable as a noun.) People often use the word orthotics to refer to custom insoles, meaning something that is made specifically to match the shape of the wearer's foot. 

There you have — the simple, easy-to-understand world of insoles, footbeds, shoe inserts, arch supports and orthotics terminology. 

But take it from us: feel free to call your insoles anything you want, as long as they make your shoes more comfortable and treat your feet well.  

Woman smiles as she walks down a city street holding a cup of coffeeWoman smiles as she walks down a city street holding a cup of coffee

While the terms we use to describe insoles, footbeds, shoe inserts, arch support and orthotics might all mean close to the same thing, that doesn't mean all insoles are the same. The naturally supportive, energizing foundation of the Superfeet shape cradles your heels and hugs your arches to give your feet the comfort and pain relief they deserve.

September 20, 2021