Shoe inserts and orthotics for sport and physical activities

Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1999 Jul;31(7 Suppl):S421-8. doi: 10.1097/00005768-199907001-00003.


The purposes of this paper were to discuss the perceived benefits of inserts and orthotics for sport activities and to propose a new concept for inserts and orthotics. There is evidence that inserts or orthotics reduce or prevent movement-related injuries. However, there is limited knowledge about the specific functioning an orthotic or insert provides. The same orthotic or insert is often proposed for different problems. Changes in skeletal movement due to inserts or orthotics seem to be small and not systematic. Based on the results of a study using bone pins, one may question the idea that a major function of orthotics or inserts consists in aligning the skeleton. Impact cushioning with shoe inserts or orthotics is typically below 10%. Such small reductions might not be important for injury reduction. It has been suggested that changes in material properties might produce adjustments in the muscular response of the locomotor system. The foot has various sensors to detect input signals with subject specific thresholds. Subjects with similar sensitivity threshold levels seem to respond in their movement pattern in a similar way. Comfort is an important variable. From a biomechanical point of view, comfort may be related to fit, additional stabilizing muscle work, fatigue, and damping of soft tissue vibrations. Based on the presented evidence, the concept of minimizing muscle work is proposed when using orthotics or inserts. A force signal acts as an input variable on the shoe. The shoe sole acts as a first filter, the insert or orthotic as a second filter, the plantar surface of the foot as a third filter for the force input signal. The filtered information is transferred to the central nervous system that provides a subject specific dynamic response. The subject performs the movement for the task at hand. For a given movement task, the skeleton has a preferred path. If an intervention supports/counteracts the preferred movement path, muscle activity can/must be reduced/increased. Based on this concept, an optimal insert or orthotic would reduce muscle activity, feel comfortable, and should increase performance.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Athletic Injuries / prevention & control*
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Equipment Design
  • Feedback
  • Foot / innervation
  • Gait*
  • Humans
  • Orthotic Devices*
  • Posture
  • Sensory Thresholds
  • Shoes*