OCT 06, 2023
AFO braces are some of the most commonly used orthotic braces. They come in multiple sizes and shapes and are used to treat a number of different conditions.
What is an AFO?
AFO very simply stands for ankle-foot orthosis. This means that it is a brace that covers the ankle and foot only. This splint-like device is used to help stabilize the ankle and foot and keep them properly aligned, which in turn enables and improves walking and gait. Wearing an AFO can also help to heal the condition it is designed to treat.
What Conditions do AFO Braces Treat?
An AFO brace is very versatile in that it can treat many different conditions, namely musculoskeletal and neurological disorders, but also foot or ankle injury.
Cerebral palsy is a condition caused by abnormal brain development or damage to the area of the developing brain that allows an individual to control his or her muscles. Many people with cerebral palsy will wear orthotic devices, including AFO braces to help with stability, gait, and minimizing the effects of spasticity of the legs.
Spina Bifida is a neural tube defect that affects the spine and is usually present at birth. Spina bifida occurs when first the neural tube doesn’t properly close, which causes the backbone that protects the spinal cord to not form correctly, ultimately leading to spinal cord and nerve damage. Wearing an AFO brace helps to support weak muscles caused by spina bifida allowing the patient to walk.
Muscular dystrophy is a condition in which a person’s mobility is decreased over time due to weakness in muscle groups. Wearing an AFO helps the patient to continue to walk, as well as reducing pain while walking.
Multiple sclerosis is a disease that affects the brain and spinal cord. When someone has MS, the immune system attacks their myelin, which is a protective sheath that covers the nerve fibers. These attacks cause communication issues between the brain and the body. A patient with multiple sclerosis wears an AFO brace to help them walk safely, prevent fatigue, avoid falls, and conserve energy.
ALS stands for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, which is a very long term to describe a neurodegenerative disease that affects the brain and spinal cord. The nerve cells of the brain and spinal cord die, which inhibits the ability to control muscle movement. Wearing an AFO brace helps with foot stabilization.
Foot drop occurs when a patient is not able to lift the front part of their foot. Many times it accompanies one of the previously listed conditions, but it can be caused other factors such as nerve injury. Wearing an AFO brace helps to hold the foot in position, as well as offering support for the foot.
What Are the Various Types of AFOs?
AFOs can be made of several different types of materials, including plastic, metal or carbon-fiber. They are designed based on the patient’s condition and treatment plan. Some AFOs are very rigid and fully stabilize the foot and ankle. A hinged AFO will stabilize the foot, but allow movement of the ankle.
Other Things to Consider When Wearing AFOs
Many AFO wearers will ask questions about shoes. You will need to purchase shoes that are a size or two bigger than your foot to adequately fit the AFO and your foot. Shoes that are flat and contain laces make the best functional shoes to wear with an AFO, especially because you can tighten or loosen them as needed.
Wearing the right sock with your AFO is just as important as the right shoe. An AFO has a tendency to rub or cause irritation to the legs and feet, so it’s best to have a good sock that can act as a buffer between the AFO and your skin. A loose sock is not advised as it can wrinkle and bunch under the brace creating more points of irritation. The sock should fit snug against the skin. Many patients also prefer a long sock that can fold over the top of the AFO. SmartKnit AFO socks are designed remembering all of these critical details to ensure the ultimate comfort to the wearer.
Hangerclinic.com; align-clinic.com; cerebralpalsy.org; cdc.gov; musculardystrophynews.com; webmd.com; mayoclinic.org; als.org