Treating Heel Pain in Adults: A Randomized Controlled Trial of Hard vs Modified Soft Custom Orthotics and Heel Pads

Published:November 17, 2020DOI:



      This study compared the effectiveness of soft vs hard orthotics in treating heel pain and plantar fasciitis in adults. It also compared the level of function after orthotic use, cost, and number of visits for orthotics and explored whether age was a factor in orthotic effectiveness.


      Randomized controlled trial. Before randomization, patients were stratified by age (younger vs older adults) in blocks of 4 to ensure that there were an equal number of participants in each group (soft vs hard orthotics).


      An orthotic clinic in a community-based hospital and a private orthotic clinic.


      The participants were adults aged 18 years or older (N=44) with heel pain and plantar fasciitis.


      Participants received hard or soft customized orthotics.

      Main Outcome Measures

      Participants rated their pain intensity and pain interference before and after orthotic use using subscales from the Brief Pain Inventory. Function was similarly measured using the Late Life Function and Disability Instrument: Function component. Analyses of age, cost, and number of visits were also compared.


      There was a reduction in pain intensity (P=.010) and pain interference (P<.001) but no change in function over time (P=.333), and no difference between the groups who received hard vs soft orthotics. Age had no effect on orthotic effectiveness. Soft orthotics were less expensive (P<.0001) and required fewer visits for fabrication (P<.0001).


      Both soft and hard orthotics provided effective pain relief, but soft orthotics are less expensive.


      List of abbreviations:

      ANOVA (analysis of variance), BPI (Brief Pain Inventory), FDI (Function and Disability Component)
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