Why Podiatrists Should Not Fear Custom Foot Orthotics At Costco

Doug Richie Jr. DPM FACFAS

A few months ago, a patient said she saw a service advertised at Costco, which provided custom foot orthotics to customers for a price of $89 per pair. She asked if I was concerned about this “competition” from a mass retailer. I replied that this type of commercial offering of custom foot orthotics would only help drive more patients into the offices of podiatric physicians.

Recently, my prediction was validated when a gentleman brought his 12-year-old son into my office for an initial consultation. The father had been shopping with his son at Costco several weeks earlier and saw the display for a custom pair of foot orthotics. He made a spontaneous decision to buy a pair for his son, who had symptomatic flat feet all his life. The father had procrastinated in taking his son to the doctor for an evaluation and this simple system of purchasing the foot orthotics at Costco seemed like an easy way out.

The Costco foot orthotics are fabricated from a weightbearing computer scan image of the feet. Many of these weightbearing scanners are now being marketed in podiatry. Unfortunately, the foot orthotics manufactured from such an image are not truly custom molded to a three-dimensional model of the foot. There is no intrinsic balancing of forefoot to rearfoot deformities with these devices. Therefore, true correction of alignment is not possible.

With the Costco purchase, the father ultimately wound up buying an $89 pair of arch supports. The devices did not fit his son and were uncomfortable to wear despite a three-week “break in” period. There was no technician or qualified sales staff at Costco to modify or change the orthotic devices.

The father now realized that a better solution would be available from a qualified podiatric physician. The negative experience at Costco had actually raised awareness about the possibilities of using foot orthotics to treat foot pain and had finally motivated this parent to make an appointment for his son.

My evaluation confirmed a congenital flexible pes planus deformity in this patient and I determined that legitimate custom foot orthotics could be effective. Better yet, my office staff confirmed that the patient was a beneficiary of a medical insurance plan, which covered custom foot orthotics. The out-of-pocket expense for my custom devices was actually less than that of the Costco orthotics.


Doug is absolutely correct. Costco orthotics are no different then the Good Feet store. After being ripped off to the tune of $300-500 for $20 dollar devices and shoes without midsole shanks, patients eventually find their way to our office...and find out the perfectly symmetrical ach supports will not address the asymmetries of the problem...and often make them worse...not better.

Kudos to Doug...good insight.

Howard Dananberg, DPM
Bedford, NH

I find your comments about being "ripped off" at the Good Feet Store not only reckless buy highly unprofessional. I am the owner of several Good Feet Stores and I could submit to you a list a mile long of absolutely satisfied customers who not only received tremendous benefits from wearing our supports but who had previously tried many many "custom orthotics" dispensed by labs that DPM's send their work to. You as a licensed doctor should have only 1 desire for anyone... and that is that they are getting benefit! To me, that would seem to be your only ethical and fiduciary stance.

I don't doubt you can supply a list of satisfied customers. The issue us with the cost. WalkFit orthotics for $20 are the SAME as the $300 Good Feet supports. How do you justify this difference? Real "custom" foot orthotics reflect the differences between feet ... and are not generic, mirror images of each other.

The reality is that these machines are from Pedalign and are same orthotics used in offices with just a different look. Pedalign is really competing against the same doctors who use their machines.

I bought a set of these six months ago to replace a six-year-old custom pair that were falling apart. The scanner device wasn't "weight-bearing," as they had me place my feet on it from a sitting position. It took me all of six months to realize that my feet weren't degenerating in spite of these inserts, they were aching because of them. During a recent cross-country motor trip (not the driver) I realized my heels were aching even I wasn't even using my feet, and if I took my shoes off, I got relief. After a little duct tape work, I went back to my old orthotics and got instant relief. I suspect the heel cups in the Costco units were just too severely angled. The good news is that they gave me a full refund.

I want to say that it was a Good Feet store which drove me to a podiatrist in the first place. That was approximately 15 years ago, whenever it was they first opened in New England. After stepping on the "reverse" carbon paper, you could see that I had issues. I tried just about every pair of orthotics in that store and none of them felt good. They all felt like I had a golf ball under my foot.

I thought it was a scam so had asked girlfriend who was with me to step on the carbon paper and it was obvious she had perfect feet. So it was not a scam. However, upon looking at my foot image again, I could see that I had two totally different feet! So, even though it may help some people who don't have major foot issues, it is not for everyone. I went to a podiatrist and had custom foot orthotics made, and have much happier feet.

I bought and use the Costco orthotics after seeing my podiatrist and finding out what I needed for better foot comfort. I LOVE the orthotics that I purchased and will buy a few more pair so I don't have to keep moving them from shoe to shoe.

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