Fifteen centers for orthopaedic treatment of the foot and ankle participated in a prospective randomized trial to compare several nonoperative treatments for proximal plantar fasciitis (heel pain syndrome). Included were 236 patients (160 women and 76 men) who were 16 years of age or older. Most reported duration of symptoms of 6 months or less. Patients with systemic disease, significant musculoskeletal complaints, sciatica, or local nerve entrapment were excluded. We randomized patients prospectively into five different treatment groups. All groups performed Achilles tendon- and plantar fascia-stretching in a similar manner. One group was treated with stretching only. The other four groups stretched and used one of four different shoe inserts, including a silicone heel pad, a felt pad, a rubber heel cup, or a custom-made polypropylene orthotic device. Patients were reevaluated after 8 weeks of treatment. The percentages improved in each group were: (1) silicone insert, 95%; (2) rubber insert, 88%; (3) felt insert, 81%; (4)stretching only, 72%; and (5) custom orthosis, 68%. Combining all the patients who used a prefabricated insert, we found that their improvement rates were higher than those assigned to stretching only (P = 0.022) and those who stretched and used a custom orthosis (P = 0.0074). We conclude that, when used in conjunction with a stretching program, a prefabricated shoe insert is more likely to produce improvement in symptoms as part of the initial treatment of proximal plantar fasciitis than a custom polypropylene orthotic device.