A number of musculoskeletal problems can arise when workers are limited to static standing postures. Together with the effects of aging, some of these problems may include arthritis of the ankle, toe deformities, plantar fasciitis, and adult acquired flat foot that may even heighten any discomfort at the knees, hips, and low back. Standing jobs can be managed more effectively to help reduce the onset and severity of stresses from those standing postures.

Many workers in manufacturing, service, hospitality, and healthcare industries will typically spend up to 8 or more hours per day standing on hard surfaces for career periods that span 10 to 30 years. With that type of exposure, it is easy to associate symptoms of discomfort with constant exposure to foot pressure at the workplace. Recent research has demonstrated positive benefits from the use of shoe insoles.

What do shoe insoles do?

A properly designed insole provides cushioning at strategic points between the foot and the inside of the shoe. This design reduces shock at the foot that may extend to the body.

Research suggests that the correct amount of polyurethane and its placement works with the shoe to provide advanced support. According to a study of 122 police officers published in the American Journal of Podiatric Medicine, shoe insoles have a 68% success rate of relieving foot discomfort. In another study, 30 postal workers at a bulk mail center wore insoles for three months and reported a reduction of 67% in perceived pain at the feet, knees, and/or back (Carley P: Postal workers respond positively to shoe inserts. Biomechanics 1998; 5:39). The study’s author recommended that the use of properly designed “shoe inserts should be one of the first considerations for employees required to stand for extended periods in the workplace.”

A 2007 insole study presented at an International meeting at the Harvard School of Public Health indicated a reduction of muscle activity that would help in reducing workplace muscle fatigue.

What are shoe insoles used for?

Insoles can be a viable alternative to anti-fatigue matting, especially in areas where mats are not feasible or employees are constantly on the move. The goal is not to correct the foot, but to integrate motion control and stability of the foot with shock absorption as integral features of the new design. While over-the-counter insoles have been available for many years, several companies have realized certain benefits of custom orthotics in the newly designed polyurethane insoles. These insoles are now available and affordable for companies to purchase in order to achieve much needed cushioning and support for the employees.

Insoles, like the ones mentioned above, typically range from $10-$50 per pair and offer a guarantee of up to one year. There are a variety of types and sizes, so careful consideration needs to be given during selection. Given human variability, one type may not work for everyone. A good approach is to try different insoles in a pilot study format so that your particular setting can best assess the costs and benefits before implementing a widespread program.