Standing or walking for long periods of time on the job affects your knees, hips and back over the long term. Feet are the weight-bearing foundation of the body, so selecting the right type of insoles and footwear that fit correctly and offer the support you need can proactively help reduce musculoskeletal injuries.

In order to select the right type of insoles and footwear, it is important to determine what type of foot you have. Feet can be classified into three categories: medium or normal arched (60-65%), low arched or flat feet (20-25%), and high arched (10-15%).

The easiest way to determine what type of foot you have is to conduct the “wet test”. Dip your foot into a basin of water. Step out onto a dry, dark coloured paper and then step off. If your footprint shows almost your whole foot (with very little curve inward near the arch), you have very low arches or flat feet. If there is a very big curve between the ball of your foot and your heel, you have high-arched feet. Finally, if your foot is somewhat between the two descriptions above and there is a slight curve inward, you have a normal arch.

Why do my feet hurt?

Constant pounding of the feet against hard surfaces such as concrete or dirt can be torturous to the feet and the joints of the body. Lack of shock absorption at the feet will make its way up the body as it is transferred to the ankles through the shins and calves and then up to the knees and lower back. The harder and more unforgiving the floor or ground surface is, the greater the shockwave.

Fortunately, there are ways to minimize the risk of pain and discomfort, even if you are among the large numbers of workers who spend your days being hard on your feet, legs and back. Two important ways to prevent foot pain and fatigue are to choose the right type of footwear and the right type of insole.

Choosing the right footwear

When choosing any type of footwear based on foot type, consider three specific footwear features: the shank, the type of heel counter and the midsole. For a flat or medium arch foot, the presence of a shank is highly recommended. Note that a shank is not the same as a steel plate, which can be found in puncture resistance footwear. It is preferred that the heel counter is rigid and the midsole is supportive. For the high arch foot, there should be no shank present, making the footwear somewhat bendable. Also recommended are a soft heel counter and a soft midsole, giving the footwear more flexibility.

Maintaining your footwear

It is recommended that industrial footwear be routinely inspected for wear and tear and replaced every six months or sooner regardless of age if:

  • Toe covering is worn and the steel toe is exposed
  • Seams are breaking
  • Lining is torn
  • Outsole is separating from the upper or midsole, resulting in loss of shock absorption, balance and motion control
  • Tread is significantly worn out

Why insoles?

Proactively implementing an anti-fatigue insole program at your workplace will minimize the risk of your employees experiencing pain and discomfort from walking and standing all day on the job. Anti-fatigue insoles provide 100-percent surface contact with the body and go wherever you go.

In order to provide maximum comfort and shock absorption, the material combination of the insole is paramount. The insole should be constructed using a soft, dual layer memory foam not gel (which gives off heat); more specifically memory foam between 15-25 Shore A Durometer. Memory foam is both temperature and pressure sensitive and self-customizing, allowing it to dynamically compress and rebound with each step of the walking cycle. In dual layer memory foam, the top layer helps reduce harmful sheer forces and provides comfort, while the bottom layer provides shock absorption and motion control. As a result, the correct insole can provide additional balance, which can be lost while wearing older footwear as the heel counter loosens. Another benefit of using the correct anti-fatigue replacement insole is that it can extend the life of the industrial footwear it complements. Insoles should be replaced at a minimum the same time as the footwear and even sooner if warranted.

Choosing the right type of insole

If you have a regular arch or high arch foot, a dual layer memory foam insole with a deep heel cup and soft contoured arch support is recommended. If you have a flat arch foot, the best type of insole to choose is with add-on orthotic pieces, in order to provide additional support. Ability to choose and alternate between a semi-rigid and rigid orthotic arch support is preferred. It is also important that the orthotic insole still contain a soft memory foam insole base for cushioning and shock absorption.

Mobility & workplace environment

Finally, mobility considerations have an impact on both the type of insole and footwear chosen. For example, if you are a stationary worker, such as a welder or painter, you should choose high profile footwear such as a 6- or 8-inch safety boot. If you are a mobile worker, or change positions constantly, then low profile footwear such as below-the-ankle safety shoes would be better. While each person may have a different foot type classification as discussed, their footwear or activity also influences the support level a person requires. Other workplace considerations affecting footwear and insole type are the electrical, chemical and temperature environment of your worksite.