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Air vs. Gel vs. Foam Insoles

Posted by on 1/28/2014 to Foot Pain Relief

Many sports injuries occur when one's footwear fails to accommodate an abnormal arch or gait. When one falls prey to such pain, they begin to look for solutions: a little R&R, new shoes, or customized insoles. Customized insoles are specially made to fit your unique foot shape, but they can cost a pretty penny. New athletic shoes and new insoles can offer ample arch support and are an effective solution when you know that for problem is, for example, low or high arches. New shoes and insoles designed specifically to for high impact sports such as running, typically feature one of three cushioning devices: air, gel, or foam.

Air

Shoes and insoles that advertise "air" cushioning contain pressurized air bubbles encased in a supportive foam sole. Foam compresses over time, and the air bubbles are believed to extend the supportive life of your shoes or replaceable insoles. Sof Sole's Airr Series of supportive insoles (men's and women's) feature air capsule technology for maximum cushioning.

Gel

Gel insoles and shoes feature a liquid gel encapsulated in bubbles and embedded into a foam footbed. Like air, gel insoles were created to extend the life of foam as well as provide extra support and cushion. They also offer supple and comfortable support to sensitive areas. One drawback to gel is that it is harder to keep in place because it is less rigid. Other critics claim that the gel is not too effective and is too heavy — gel is indeed much denser and weighs more than air or foam, which may weigh you down on the trails. If you have pain and sensitivity in the feet and are looking for insoles that will last longer than a couple quick months, gel insoles might be worth investing in. Best Insoles carries Spenco ProForm GEL Insoles and XX, both featuring gel technology.

Foam

Good old fashion foam: rigid, inexpensive, naturally shock absorbing, and dependable. Foam and shoes made from dense foam and a rigid hardened base (for heel cupping and arch support) and simple and very effective. The hardened base underneath the foam provides structure and rigidity that athletic footwear necessitates. The extra support means more contact points from the foam directly to your foot, so instead of the heel and the ball being the only two contact points (leaving the arch and length of the foot unsupported and bearing the weight of the body), the entire foot makes contact with the ground — resulting in optimized energy transfer and reduced injury! Every sweet story has its downside, and foam is no exception: this rudimentary material compresses and loses support after a few short months. Best Insoles offers several foam insole designs. One of our favorites and best sellers is the PolySorb PERFORM Insoles: offering excellent foam cushion support and a rigid base that will support the arch of the foot.

So What's the Best?

Air, gel, and foam are all helpful and each material has its list of pros and cons. The best thing you can do to make your choice of exercise more comfortable is to diagnose and address. First, find out what exactly makes your foot or gait abnormal. If you visit a physical therapist and they watch you run on the treadmill, they can accurately advise you of where and how problems may be occurring. For example, I get shin splints easily because my arches are a little high and I run slightly pigeon-toed, with my ankles rolling outward. If I don't use insoles with arch support or customized insoles, my shin splints will return after only a couple weeks of running regularly. I would not know this if I had not visited a personal trainer. Sometimes, if you visit a specialized running store, someone in the store may be able diagnose your gait and foot shape, although they are not specially trained to do so. Once you find out what the problem is, you can figure out how to reverse or prevent reinjury. A nice supportive running shoe or replaceable insole will most likely suffice, whether it be entirely made from foam, foam and pressurized air, or a foam/gel combination, make sure the insole or shoe you invest in has a rigid and hard base support structure.

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