What Is an AFO Brace and What Is It Used For?
AFO stands for Ankle Foot Orthosis, and it's designed to help control and correct the foot and ankle. An AFO brace does this by controlling the plantar surface or the bottom of the foot, but also extends the control up the leg to help hold it in the correct position.
The simplest way to think of it in relation to orthotics is you have a lot of conditions that orthotics can address like flat feet and plantar fasciitis. However, orthotics are only going to address the bottom of the foot. There are going to be conditions where sometimes a foot orthotic isn't sufficient, and so a custom brace is the next step up in treatment.
Depending on the pathologies a patient has or how aggressive their conditions are, doctors will eventually need to start using the leg and the ankle for leverage to hold that foot and that ankle up.
A doctor can diagnose a patient and prescribe a brace, but may end up dealing with patient compliance issues. If the AFO brace is ugly, if it's bulky, if it's heavy, if it's uncomfortable, if the patient can't get it on and off, doctors will have difficulty convincing the patient that they need to wear it. If the patient is not going to comply with the doctor’s orders and doesn't wear the AFO, it will not do them any good.
Today we’re going to address the common misconceptions surrounding AFO braces that are actually untrue! We want to increase your confidence as a doctor in prescribing AFO braces and help improve your patient compliance rates.
They Are Ugly, Bulky and Uncomfortable
Most patients (and some doctors) have an image of AFO braces in their mind. They believe the brace is a “big boot” type thing that is unwieldy, bulky, and look bad. People think at first that they would never wear an AFO because it will make them stand out and it’s something that other people will notice them wearing right away.
It might sound silly that patients don’t comply simply because they don’t want to hurt their social image. However, many don’t want to publicize that they have a foot condition, and so they would rather suffer in pain not wearing an AFO than let others see them walking around in a giant boot.
Bulky braces used to be very common, but present-day AFO designs have improved significantly. AFO braces are now smaller, sleeker and lower-profile with a focus on being comfortable. The goal is to make a brace that patients will wear and can use in a variety of different applications.
We design modern AFO braces to fit into most shoes within reason. If the patient wears an athletic shoe or other similar casual shoe, they should have no problem adding the brace without having to get new or specially sized shoes.
There are some extreme cases where patients have conditions that make their feet hard to fit into a shoe. Adding a brace on top of that is pretty hopeless in terms of them being able to wear it in their shoe. What custom brace labs (like Forward Motion) are able to do is actually turn the AFO brace into a shoe itself! The lab can create the AFO brace that encloses the foot and then add an outer sole to the bottom so that patients can just put it on and wear it outside.
Heavy to Wear and Difficult to Put On
A large portion of the AFO customer base is older patients with age-related pathologies. Falling is one of the biggest risks to the health and the mortality of an elderly person for obvious reasons. It can be very dangerous for them If they have conditions like foot drop or instability and will add exponentially to the risks by tripping.
Braces are especially useful for many conditions that affect the elderly patients. However, many patients think AFO braces are heavy and will add to the risk of tripping them up. This is false because braces actually improve balance and stability. Doctors can design AFOs with certain features in mind like hinges to fling up patient toes and decrease the risk of tripping.
Patients wearing AFO braces are not necessarily going to go running or jogging with this device, but they still want something that is light, something that they can wear around the house. A patient won't want to wear something that is hard to put on and overly complicated to lace up properly.
Modern AFOs are designed to be supportive and light. They are devices that patients can put on and take off easily. The addition of Velcro straps or Boa laces make it simple to properly lace up the AFO quickly. This is a benefit for people that are older and live alone, or have had a stroke and have limited mobility in one side of their body.
AFO Brace Customization Level
This is more of a doctor-related misconception, but most people do not understand the level of customization options available when it comes to AFO braces. Patients often confuse a custom AFO brace with those that can be purchased at a drug-store.
A fully custom AFO can be customized to any shape or any size. Big or small, from children's devices all the way up to (for lack of a better term) the thickest elephant leg you could think of. There's all sorts of modifications that doctors can add to the brace within reason following a diagnosis. By adding more customization and creating a more functional brace, it’s going to address more issues for the patient.
For example, if you have a patient who is a heavy person and they're collapsing medially and you wanna build up the arch. Doctors can add a medial strap (a strap that goes from the navicular all the way up, crosses the leg and connects on the lateral side of the leg) to give additional support and to keep that arch lifted up. A lot of doctors don't know that you add or bill for that.
The Benefit of using Forward Motion Medical
As a custom braces lab, we have a lot of experience when it comes to AFO braces. Whether it be consulting about different products, how to order, how to diagnose, how to bill, we'll be with you every step of the way as long as you need us.
Our AFO braces are fully customizable to whatever your needs are. We have a huge offering as far as what kind of customization options that we can do, both on the menu and off menu items. Our 3D Digital Scanner increases the speed from which you can get a brace back from a scan resulting in a quicker turnaround time.
Forward Motion is always pushing the envelope for new materials, new styles, and new additions to our AFO braces. Our products are unique and industry-leading.
Lastly, we guarantee our braces to work. If it needs adjusting, to be redone, or have additions added to it, we can do that! We stand behind our work and offer unparalleled customer service.