The ankle-foot orthosis (AFO) is an important personal asset that enables you to move around quickly. Millions of people use it too, so don't feel as though you are different. Instead, embrace your uniqueness and take good care of it as recommended by your orthotist to get maximum utility from it.
Here are nine expert tips on how to take care of your ankle-foot orthosis.
1. Practice Makes Perfect
It's normal to find it challenging to walk for long distances while wearing an AFO at first. As with anything else in life, practice makes perfect, and soon you will learn the ropes and be able to walk comfortably. Embrace the learning process and work cordially with your physiotherapist.
Take baby steps to give your body enough time to adjust. For example, start by wearing the brace for 30 minutes to one hour before taking it off and resting. Gradually increase the length of time to wear the brace and the distance covered until you get fully accustomed to it.
2. Wear the Right Shoe
First-time users often assume that they can wear it with any shoe.
You will experience discomfort if you wear the AFO with the same shoes you used before. Experts recommend wearing a lace-up shoe that comfortably accommodates the ankle orthosis and your foot.
That is, the shoe should leave enough room for the ankle orthosis to move around when walking. It's also important to consider the height of the heel. Ideally, the heel size should be the same. If not, it will affect the alignment of the AFO and make walking unnecessarily stressful.
3. Wear Quality Cotton Socks
Enhance comfort by wearing quality cotton socks. The socks will create a cushioning barrier between your skin and the material. The socks should be long enough to cover the entire length of the AFO and roll over the edge. That will prevent it from sliding down when walking.
The thicker the socks, the better. During winter and humid weather conditions, it's advisable to apply baby powder on the leg before wearing the sock. That’ll help to reduce friction and accumulation of moisture. You can change the socks several times depending on the distance you walk.
4. Be Open to Making Adjustments
The orthotist will adjust the ankle-foot orthosis to ensure that it fits you well. That's normal, so please don't fret if the AFO doesn't fit you right at first. The prosthetics and orthotics professionals at the facility will make careful adjustments to find the ideal fit for you.
5. Lookout for Pressure Areas
The AFO exerts pressure on your ankle, and you may feel some discomfort during the initial stages. Red spots will develop on the affected skin sections due to reduced blood circulation due to pressure.
Be on the lookout for these pressure areas and contact the orthotist if the redness does not disappear after 15 minutes. The orthotist may advise you to wear a different cotton socks brand to protect the pressure areas. The size of the AFO may also be adjusted to match your foot size.
6. Consider Lubricating your AFO
Friction between the metal joints can affect the movement of the AFO as you walk. Reduce it by lubricating the joints using the recommended lubricant. Consult your orthotist to know which is the ideal lubricant.
7. Keep it Clean
Your AFO has different thermoplastic components. Over time, they accumulate dust and grime, so it's only prudent that you take time off your busy schedule to clean it several times per week. The frequency is dependent on how often to wear it and the distance covered.
Clean the thermoplastic parts using mild soapy water and a soft sponge. Remember to rinse the parts before wearing the AFO again. More importantly, you shouldn't soak it in water as some parts are not water tolerant.
8. Avoid Using Direct Heat Sources to Dry the AFO
Some AFO components cannot withstand extreme temperatures, so you should avoid drying them using direct heat sources such as a hairdryer. Leave them to dry at room temperature before wearing them again.
If you are in a hurry, use a towel to dry out the water and any soap residue. You can also use a fan to dry it faster, but be careful not to bring the fan too close to the brace as some fans emit heat.
9. Refrain from Adjusting the AFO Yourself
It's tempting to adjust the size of the AFO to save time that you would have spent driving to the prosthetics and orthotics facility. Refrain from making any adjustment and instead book an appointment with your orthotist
Licensed orthotists have the skills and expertise required to adjust the AFO based on the pressure areas identified and the size of your foot.
Cooperate with them to get the ideal fit and avoid unnecessary trips to the facility.
Types of Ankle-Foot Orthosis
Now that you know how to take good care of your AFO, let us dive in and look at the three common types of AFOs, shall we?
1. Dynamic AFO
Dynamic AFO is made from a quality thin thermoplastic that offers ample support to the patient's foot. This plastic material is flexible, and this helps the patient maintain circumferential control and neutral alignment of the foot. It's used to correct mild ankle and foot deformities that require minimal/passive force.
2. Articulated or Hinged AFO
An articulated AFO has a hinge around the plantarflexion stop and ankle that allows controlled movement of the foot. The orthotic adjusts the hinge to suit the size of the foot and the condition being treated.
For adequate stability, it's advisable to wear this type of AFO with a Velcro-closure or laced shoe. It's commonly used to correct medial instability.
3. Rigid AFO
The rigid AFO is designed to cover the entire back of the leg and hinders any movement of the affected ankle. It provides ample stability to the ankle and foot by creating toe clearance as the patient swings the foot.
It’s usually used on children with cerebral palsy and below 10 degrees of ankle dorsiflexion when the knee is extended fully.
Ankle-foot orthosis will enable you to walk again by offering plenty of support to the affected ankle. Be sure to adhere to the instructions and recommendations provided by your orthotist to benefit fully from the brace. We wish you a speedy recovery and hope to see you soon!
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