Orthopedic specialists often fit patients with braces that protect and help heal various parts of the body. Patients might wear them temporarily, after surgery, or even permanently.
Some of the most commonly used devices are AFOs or ankle-foot orthoses. They are designed in many sizes and can be used for a range of conditions. Patients often have questions about what devices are, how they are used, and what benefits they provide. Following are some of the most-asked questions:
What Is an AFO?
Just as the name (ankle-foot orthotic) implies, an AFO is a kind of orthotics brace designed specifically to support the foot and ankle. Most are custom-made to fit the individual and encompass the foot, ankle, and leg. Orthoses finish below the knee. Patients also wear specially designed socks underneath braces, and many opt for Kite Rite Direct Afo Socks that protect the skin.
The brace stabilizes the ankle and foot and keeps them properly aligned. Correct alignment makes walking more accurate and comfortable, which promotes healing and can help certain health conditions.
When Do Doctors Prescribe AFOs?
Specialists typically recommend AFO braces for various musculoskeletal and neurological disorders. But, the devices are also used following foot and ankle surgeries to provide support for weakened joints and muscles. Doctors routinely prescribe AFOs for conditions that include:
· Spina bifida
· Muscular dystrophy
· Cerebral Palsy
· Foot drop
· Multiple sclerosis
· Foot and ankle injuries
AFOs are used to improve the quality of life for children with conditions such as Cerebral Palsy. Per CerebralPalsy.org, a brace can “help a child maintain his or her level of mobility, or correct physical issues that are preventing the child from being fully ambulatory.”
What Are AFOs Made From?
Orthoses can be made from various materials, depending on their use. Materials include:
· Fabric. There are fabric devices that include elastic. They are designed to lift and support.
· Carbon Fiber. A strong, light, composite material, carbon fiber is used for some braces. Carbon fiber AFOs are frequently recommended to treat conditions that include neuropathy, peripheral/peroneal neuropathy, stroke, and cerebral palsy.
· Thermoplastic. Various plastics are used to create thermoplastic AFOs, with homopolymer polypropylene and copolymer polypropylene being the most common.
· Metal. Below-knee or caliper irons are created using steel or aluminum. Braces attach to sockets that have been added to shoes. AFOs extend to the calf brand. They are typically covered in leather and have a Velcro or buckle fastener.
How Are Braces Made?
There are stock AFOs fitted based on shoe size or ankle measurements, but many devices are custom-made.
According to the Hanger Clinic, it can take an entire healthcare team to prescribe a custom AFO. Team members may include a therapist, an orthopedist, and the referring doctor. The goal is to create a device that meets the patient’s unique needs and goals.
Custom devices are made using a cast or 3D scan. Casting is the most common method, and it requires wrapping a limb in a plaster of Paris bandage. Once the orthotist has the foot in the desired position, the bandage is removed. The cast is filled with plaster, and the bandage is eliminated.
Adjustments are usually made to ensure a perfect fit, and then the desired plastic material is heated in an oven, draped over the cast, and fitted to the cast. Edges are smoothed, and then padding and straps are added.
Braces known as AFOs are prescribed for patients dealing with a range of ankle or foot conditions. The devices can provide support and stability. AFOs can be made of various materials. Some patients are fitted with stock braces, but many wear doctor-prescribed custom AFOs.
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