What are heel cups?
Many people who suffer from foot pain, especially pain caused by plantar fasciitis, seek out a simple fix that will allow them to keep going about their daily routine without spending too much money. One of the most common products that people pick up is a pair of heel cups. A heel cup looks a bit like a shoe insole that only covers the heel. It is typically made of plastic, sometimes with a gel core, and it comes in varying thicknesses and with different built-in inclines. It’s relatively cheap and easy to use so it seems like a great option. You can buy them in most pharmacies and they just go right over your heel in your shoe. You typically do not need to trim or reshape them, it's just a simple and convenient product. It also seems to make sense because if your heel hurts, adding cushion to the heel should help, right? And in studies it has been shown that heel cups do add cushion. Different heel cups, even plastic heel cups have also been shown to absorb shock and sometimes add a bit of lift to the heel.
Do they work for plantar fasciitis?
Unfortunately though, as with most quick and easy fixes, they have been shown to be ineffective for pain caused by plantar fasciitis. Plantar fasciitis is a condition where the plantar fascia, or the band of tissue that runs along the bottom of the foot, becomes strained and inflamed, causing pain that is often located in the heel. So, in this case, the pain felt in the heel is not the result of lack of cushioning in the heel, and that is why adding cushion there does not solve the problem. Rather, approaches that relieve the stress on the plantar fascia are much more effective. Sometimes this is achieved through the addition of a full insole that corrects the alignment of the structures in the foot and ankle, allowing them to work together the way they were designed so that there is no added strain on the plantar fascia. And sometimes this needs to be done through surgery.
What are they best for?
However, if you are not hoping to solve a pain issue but just want to add some comfort to a pair of shoes, a heel cup may help to some extent. It may also be helpful to increase shock absorption, which could be worthwhile if you are walking or on your feet all day for work. But for foot pain, it is always best to see a doctor, get a proper diagnosis, and treat the root of the problem.