September 22, 2018
Step Up to the Dr. Scholl\
Ask Berkeley Wellness

Step Up to the Dr. Scholl's Kiosk?

by Jeanine Barone  

Q: Are the “custom fit” orthotics sold at Dr. Scholl’s “Custom Fit” kiosks useful? I see the machines in drugstores and some shoe stores.

A: Some people may find them helpful for foot or other lower-body pain, but, as with all types of shoe inserts, there are no guarantees. As you stand barefoot on the “FootMapping” plates, the Dr. Scholl’s machine measures pressure points in your feet and then recommends one of 14 different inserts available for immediate purchase.

It takes just a few minutes and doesn’t cost anything to use the kiosk, but the inserts are more expensive than other off-the-shelf ones ($50 to $60 versus about $10 to $20), though much less than ones made by a podiatrist ($400 to $800).

According to the Dr. Scholl’s website, the orthotics are “clinically proven” to relieve foot, knee, and lower back pain. But there seems to be just one small published study that looked at the kiosk system—and it’s not a good one. Published in the International Journal of Neurorehabilitation in 2016, it assessed pain levels in 23 people with chronic foot pain before and after they had their feet measured at a local kiosk and wore the recommended inserts. Participants reported significant reductions in pain after a week of using them, compared to baseline. The researchers concluded that the inserts “may be effective in managing foot pain.”

But the study lacked a no-treatment control group, and it didn’t compare the Dr. Scholl’s inserts to other off-the-shelf brands or to prescription orthotics. So, basically, it’s impossible to know if these inserts are better than any others—or even better than nothing.

Reviews on the company’s website range from people who love the inserts to those who said they were poorly constructed and wore out after just a week. And in an online podiatry forum, a podiatrist noted that the kiosk gave different recommendations to his client when she tried it several times, which is possible since just shifting your weight or posture can affect the reading. (The company acknowledges that this can happen and says it’s possible that either of the inserts recommended would be okay but also recommends getting a third measure and taking the recommendation provided two out of three times.)

Bear in mind also that the kiosks provide a static reading, meaning that it doesn’t reflect how your foot functions when walking or running.

Not surprisingly, many podiatrists aren’t so keen on the kiosks. In a class action lawsuit, podiatrists in Illinois asserted that the term “custom fit orthotic” is false and misleading, since the inserts are prefabricated, not truly custom fit, and anyone prescribing orthotics in that state must be licensed. The lawsuit was dismissed, for reasons not made public.

Another class action suit, filed by a consumer on behalf of consumers, claimed Dr. Scholl’s engaged in deceptive advertising because the orthotics are not custom fit (but it was also dismissed).

Bottom line: Using the kiosk is certainly quicker and cheaper than visiting a podiatrist and getting real custom fit orthotics. But whether you’ll get relief with the Dr. Scholl’s system isn’t clear—you may be just as well off with a pair of cheaper OTC inserts.

A better bet is to see a podiatrist, orthopedist, physical therapist, or other foot-care specialist who can analyze the biomechanics of your feet and recommend stretches and exercises, as well as other shoe inserts, including various types of arch supports. Keep in mind also that if you have a serious foot, knee, hip, or back problem or are not in good health (for example, you have diabetes), the wrong inserts can make matters worse or cause injury if a serious condition goes untreated.

Also see Need Orthotics? Try OTC Versions First.