Keeping your feet and legs in good shape is important to your health -- these are what let you walk around, after all. Not all shoes have soft, cushiony interiors that act like pillows for your feet, and this can be uncomfortable, not to mention possibly lead to pain. Gel insoles are marketed as one way to provide relief and preventive care.
Gel insoles don’t contain what you usually think of as gel -- there’s no mushy center that you have to take care not to pierce for fear of something oozing out. The gel in these insoles is a solid but soft and yielding material that acts as a cushion when you walk or run. The idea is that when your foot presses down as it hits the ground, the insole will let your foot continue moving down a little as it slows and starts moving back up, instead of slamming right into the bottom of your shoe, which isn’t always the softest surface.
Even though it looks like your foot is protected from the ground by your shoe, the shock of it hitting the ground travels up through your shoe into your foot and leg. Repeatedly shocking your foot and leg like that can lead to small tears in the muscle and connective tissue, known as shin splints, or possibly small fractures. Ankle pain is possible, too, and while these are treatable, you probably don’t want to have to deal with coordinating an outfit to match an elastic bandage on your leg. Adding insoles to your shoes is a common suggestion to help lessen your chances of developing bone or muscle problems. If you have to stand for a long time as well, the American Academy of Family Physicians says insoles could be one way to lessen or prevent leg and foot pain. If you are having some sort of leg or foot pain, though, get it checked out by a doctor to ensure it’s really something an insole can help.
Gel insoles aren’t the only type you’ll find in the store. The type of insole you use really comes down to a matter of personal preference. Gel insoles typically last a reasonably long time -- the exact amount isn’t predictable because there’s no one-to-one correlation between miles walked and insole wear -- but you won’t have to change them every couple of weeks. The gel insoles can be thicker than other types such as foam, but again, this is brand-specific. Gel insoles also don’t disintegrate quite as spectacularly as other types. As you walk, friction from your foot on one side and the bottom of the inside of the shoe on the other wears away at the insoles. Thinner insoles can develop holes near your heel and ball of the foot. While gel insoles aren’t immortal and can tear as well, they may last longer and not leave debris all over your sock.
The trade-off is that gel insoles are more expensive. It is entirely possible that in your area, the cost difference is so great that the cheaper, shorter-lived insoles could still be a better deal. This all depends on how much you use them, how much friction they have to endure and how well the insoles are made. You may have to just try different types and keep track of time and costs to figure out which is best for you.