Foot Mapping Machines: Real Deal or Smoke and Mirrors?

Several years ago Dr. Scholl’s conducted a nationwide launch of their foot mapping technology. Today, you can find their kiosks in big box stores and grocery chains throughout the U.S. like Walmart, Wegmans and Fred Meyers. Dr. Scholl’s revolutionary foot mapping machine promises “custom fit” orthotics. Their TV commercials have featured so-called doctors behind the machine like in the Wizard of Oz and their latest campaign has shifted to main street, featuring everyday people living their lives and working through pain and a myriad of foot problems. Dr. Scholl’s promises “all-day relief of tired, achy feet,” as well as a relief serious foot disorders like; plantar fasciitis, arch and heel pain, heel spurs and even Achilles tendonitis.

National chains Good Feet and Foot Solutions have similar technology, although their foot mapping system is confined to only within their own retail stores. They too make similar claims that “you won’t have to live with foot pain anymore”.

These foot mapping machines or custom orthotic centers, were designed as a sales gimmick to woo uneducated consumers and fall short of expectations. Most customers experience little to no results and walkaway with foot pain and hip pain; left from the hole in their wallet.

In fact, an over-the-counter insole is likely to have the same support and cushioning as a custom fit orthotic dispensed from Dr. Scholl’s kiosk, except for about $30 to $50 less. When comparing $50 “custom fit” orthotics from Dr. Scholl’s foot mapping machine to standard Dr. Scholl’s insoles sold in the foot care aisle there is little difference other than the price. Both products are soft and flexible and don’t provide enough support. In order to treat and resolve a foot condition like plantar fasciitis or arch pain the arch support of the insole must be firm. Either way, an insole or custom orthotic will not resolve a foot disease as it cannot secure the fascia ligament from moving as you move. As one moves it creates pulling at the heel bone which in turns stimulates inflammation. Arch pain is an inflammation of the midsole tissue of the foot and through gravity and your body weight insoles and orthotics flatten it out and simply cannot do the job. Only 1 in 10 will resolve from a serious foot condition using an insole or orthotic.

Foot mapping measures pressure and the machines contain tiny sensors on the platform. In fact, there are 2,000 pressure sensors that can tell where you typically apply the most pressure when standing. The machine recommends a “custom fit” solution for your feet once your pressure has been read. Unfortunately, there is no evidence that pressure readings provide any information that can help in determining the shape of an orthotic.

Good Feet & Foot Solutions also use foot mapping to produce what they claim are “custom fit” orthotics to help relieve pain. The difference is that instead of spending $50 on Dr. Scholl’s you will spend upwards of $500 with Good Feet and Foot Solutions. They prescribe a kit or bundle of 3 custom orthotic solutions. 100 podiatry offices were polled and in most cases, approximately 97%, found that foot mapping machines exacerbated their patients foot problems, encouraging poor gait and accelerating tissue degeneration. Further, their patients had spent upwards of $1000 on insoles and orthotics before consulting a physician.

As stated above there’s no indication that pressure sensors provide any relevant information to determine the shape and style of an orthotic, nor do they address specific heel and foot pain. Additionally, many over-the-counter orthotics are too soft to effectively transfer pressure. An evaluation of each of the 14 different Dr. Scholl’s orthotic models as well as a variety of orthotics from Good Feet and Foot Solutions were found to have some shape differences in the arch supports, but each of the devices were so soft that they collapsed completely with a little hand pressure. Under bodyweight, they will all collapse. So it doesn’t matter if it is the correct orthotic for your foot, once you stand on them, in time, they will all be flat. 

The reality is that the foot mapping technology is just a simple pressure pad that senses high pressure areas and then suggests a “custom fit” orthotic. A pressure pad can only tell where there is more pressure when one is standing still. It knows nothing about what neutral position is, which is the ideal functioning position of the foot. This is the position your foot is captured in when a real custom orthotic is made by a physician. There is nothing “custom fit” about the process of these foot mapping devices. A custom fit would require not only dispensing an orthotic made directly from a mold or 3D impression of both feet, but also a biomechanical exam including gait analysis. This is what allows a patient to wear an orthotic that is made specifically for their foot type and gait pattern. Standing still on a Dr. Scholl’s kiosk or any other foot mapping device and looking at your footprint cannot analyze relationships, classify foot type, or diagnose your problem.

So what do you do if you suffer from foot and or ankle pain? Look for a brace that can keep your fascia ligament secure during times of movement and activity. In order to treat and resolve serious foot disorders like fasciitis and tendonitis it is imperative that the ligaments and or tendons remain fixed during movement. No insole or even custom orthotic is capable of accomplishing this.

Insoles and orthotics do serve a purpose, however, they are designed to control alignment and function of the foot in order to treat and prevent injury causing motions. Insoles absorb and block shock that travels up the feet and into the lower extremities during activities like running, walking and even standing; making these activities more efficient. Lastly, orthotics provide cushioning and redistribute pressure on the bottom of the foot to relieve aches, soreness and moderate discomfort.