"Shoe inserts or orthotics may be helpful as a short-term solution, preventing injuries in some athletes. But it is not clear how to make inserts that work. The idea that they are supposed to correct mechanical-alignment problems does not hold up." State Dr. Benno Nigg, a professor of biomechanics and co-director of the Human Performance Lab at the University of Calgary in Alberta.
Orthotics, arch supports, gel cushioned shoes, etc, are a multi-million dollar industry in the United States and across the world. Chiropractors, Physical Therapists, Orthopedic doctors, Family Physicians, and a host of other health practitioners and advocates tell people that they need orthotics because they have bad biomechanics and that the orthotics will correct them. Research has shown that orthotics do nothing to our mechanics when walking or running.
There are common excuses that "I have flat feet'. I cannot run because I have flat feet, I cannot do x, y, and z because I have flat feet. Who said flat feet are bad? Arches are a hold over from our evolution. The arch is necessary for our primate ancestors who used the arch to better grip on trees to provide an advantage when climbing. This is something we know longer do and there is no need for it to be present. It is phasing out. Dr. Benno asks, ""Why would we(need an arch)? For landing — no need. For the stance phase — no need. For the takeoff phase no need. Thus a flat foot is not something that is bad per se.”
If you are accustomed to orthotics and find benefit from them, then by all means continue to use them. If you are one of the many people who try different orthotics with little to no benefit, discontinue use and wear what feels good.
Most people who wear orthotics of footwear support can solve the majority of issues with two simple things, strengthen their feet and lose weight. Strengthening the feet is actually the harder of the two to do. In order to strengthen the muscles of your feet, they need to be exercised. Walking in sand, foot drills, curling toes in the sand/along bands or tubing, these will help to strengthen the muscles of the feet and in turn better support all of the joints within the foot. This will lead to better mechanics of the foot, ankle, knee, hip, and back. In turn, this will decrease pain, alleviate pressure off joints and lead to improved quality of life.
You can also take things to the complete other end of the spectrum and wear minimalist footwear. Shoes like Nike Free's, Vibram Five Fingers, and other minimalist footwear. These types of shoes provide little to no support and try to increase activation of muscle fibers by allowing the feet to move more freely, gripping toes on the stairs, stabilize from rolling of the ankle, etc. This is an option that has a small but growing group of followers. It can be difficult to manage this type of footwear in areas where there is snow in the winter but they can be a great option in the spring, summer, and fall.
Whatever the choice you make, make sure that you are the best informed that you can be. Always ask people why they are suggesting what they are suggesting, do they have any financial motivation?