December 7, 2010

Product Review: Rx Sorbo Sorbothane Performance Graphite Arch Insoles

The Sorbothane trial period is over. Actually, it's been over for a little under a week. I started this blog 3 times over the last 5 days trying to come up with some kind of professional and formal review of these products. I got nothin'. It was killing me for days that I couldn't find a way to just spill my thoughts out. Then it hit me last night that I am, in fact, NOT a professional reviewer, so why am I putting that kind of pressure on myself? The truth is that I'm a recreational runner who loves to run, wants to continue running and stay healthy and injury-free for life. I want shoes, clothes, accessories and gear to fit me well and feel good; not inflame weaker spots in my knees or IT bands, strain muscles, or chafe my hips and back. I'm an ordinary runner who wants to gather and share as much information for and with my fellow runners so we can all make the best decisions possible when it comes to choosing a new anything!

The back story of how this review came to be can be found here. In short, I was asked by Sorbothane to review 2 types of insoles the President of the company recommended for my arch type after I complained about another Sorbothane insole that caused a flare up of IT band pain. I was sent the Rx Sorbo Performance Graphite Arch Insoles; one for medium arches and one for high arches.

Medium Arches
My first impressions of the medium arch insoles were good. I liked the added cushioning in the forefoot. I was a little hesitant about how comfortable the insoles would be considering the rigid graphite-supported arches, but other than lifting my heel slightly and causing my foot to fit a little more tight in my shoes, they felt pretty normal. After 49.69 miles, I can tell you that they did not hurt me like the previous model did. I ran normally in them for a couple of weeks with no noticeable change in the way my foot felt. I recovered from the Santa Barbara Marathon with no problems at all (I started wearing these beginning with my first recovery run). The longest run I did was a hilly 15K. I did both hill and speed work as part of the testing as well.

These pictures were taken after I put 50 miles on them.

Max height of the graphite reinforced Medium arch is about 22 mm (7/8")
Effect of the medium arch on heel lift
Insole rides a little high on the inside (see orange)

High Arches
I switched to the High arch insoles early last week, with the expectation these would be even more appropriate for my very high-arched feet. Just getting them in my shoe was a bit of a challenge. The graphite piece is SO rigid, it took me several tries just get the dang thing to sit correctly in my shoe. As soon as I slipped my foot back into my glass slipper, I knew the wrong Prince had shown up. This can't be my shoe. I had to almost completely re-lace my shoes just so I could get my foot in. I use an extra loop in my lacing to keep my heel from slipping since I have a narrow foot. Not only could I NOT do that, I barely had enough lacing left over to make even a single bow to keep the shoe tied. Already my foot is unhappy - cramped and ready to bust the shoe at the seams. I stood up and felt about 6 inches taller. 

I walked around the house for a few minutes, trying to see if I could get the shoes to loosen up a little. After 15 minutes of fussing with them, I was finally ready to give them a test spin on the treadmill. The first thing I noticed was that my feet felt heavy. As I continue cranking up the speed to a comfortable running pace, I can hear my feet slapping the belt. This can't be good, I thought. Maybe I need to change my gait a little. I tried shortening my stride but the slapping continued. I could not get my foot to roll naturally through the landing phase. My forefoot almost felt like it was in a cast and my shoe felt full of bricks. Suddenly, the outsides of my calves are tightening and I can literally feel straining in my lower legs and ankles. No way I'm taking any chances injuring myself, especially with a previous history of pain using this brand. I kicked them off at exactly 0.23 miles. Yep, all of this happened in less than a quarter of a mile. I switched to my older shoe with the RRS insole and felt immediate relief in my lower legs.                                                                                      

These pictures show the drastic effects of these high arch supports.

Max height of High arch insoles is approx 26 mm

Effect of the high arch on heel lift - an unacceptable added 6 mm heel lift
This is a comparative view of how differently the insoles sit in the shoe. The high arch insole is ridiculously high and quite frankly, now that I'm seeing these 2 side-by-side, I would go so far as to say these are dangerous for runners. It's almost "forced supination" - forcing the foot to roll on the outside- starting way back in the heel! I understand the theory - high arched runners are notorious over-pronators, but seriously, this is overcompensating and risky from an injury perspective. The top pic is the Med arch and the High arch on the bottom. Is that High arch insole crazy or what?

These are the notes I wrote down after I finished out the run in the high arches verbatim:

  • It made me hate my shoe
  • Severely restricted flexion
  • Couldn't lace my shoes properly
  • Foot sat very high in shoes, right heel slipping
  • Perception was a heavy shoe because of the flopping
  • Threw them off after 0.23 miles and put on an older pair with old RRS inserts and it was like running in a completely different pair of shoes
  • I would never recommend the high arch graphite support for any athletic activity requiring walking or running.

Closing Thoughts
I guess it's pretty obvious what my opinion is of the high arch Rx Sorbo Performance Graphite insole. Use these at your own risk. I won't even wear these in my walking shoes. I could see how they might possibly benefit people who stand all day, but as far as athletic activity goes, I would steer clear of these completely.

I'm torn on the medium arch insoles. They didn't hurt me but there wasn't anything special about them either. The extra padding in the forefoot felt good sometimes, and other times it felt like a nuisance. I didn't realize how tight my foot felt in the toe box until I went back to my old RRS insoles. I suppose if you wear a shoe with a wide toe box and feel you need solid arch support to correct over-pronation and you don't mind adding $40-$50 onto the price of your shoe, these may be right for you.

I may or may not continue using the medium arch supports. I've started having some IT band aching these last few days, but I cannot say it is due to the insoles because I'm starting to step up my training and these aches may very well be just normal 'growing' pains.  To be safe, I'm going back to my RRS insoles for the next month. With the Galloway Training Group having officially kicked off with an awesome and fun 3-mile run last Saturday, I simply cannot risk getting injured and this trial period did not increase my confidence that these insoles are safe or appropriate for runners.


G. E. Anderson --- said...

The only difference between a professional reviewer and an amateur is that the former gets paid. :) You did a "professional" job with your review in that it will be useful for people considering this product.

Frankly, I'm not surprised with your so-so review of the medium arch product and your awful review of the high arch product. While these kinds of insoles are undoubtedly helpful to some people, what they mostly do is further isolate the foot from ground feedback. In many people, that can translate into problems with hips, knees, IT bands, etc.

I'm not a hardcore barefoot runner, or even a hardcore minimalist, but if nothing else, my "experiment of one" has taught me that, the more stuff I put between my feet and the road, the more likely I am to hurt myself.

Vera said...

I totally agree Greg. That's exactly how I was feeling - as if I couldn't feel the ground/belt. It's just too much...

Joanne said...

That was a great review. It doesn't get much better when you honestly tried both options.

I have high arches as well but don't buy special inserts. The one time I did, the support felt like it was jabbing into the arch of my left foot. It must be that one is a bit lower than my right one.
I like to swap out my sneaks so I have 5 different pair, all for high arches. I usually don't run in the same shoe 2 days in a row.

Vera said...

Hi Joanne, thank you! I am starting some new shoe rotations as well. Good advice on not running in the same pair 2 days in a row! Happy Friday. :-)

chris mcpeake said...

Thanks for the heads up!

Simply Life said...

Great review!

High Arch Supports said...

Thanks so much for the review. I was planning to buy these insoles but after reading this review I have changed up my mind. Appreciate your sharing.