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Ankle-foot Orthosis (AFO)

Ankle-foot Orthosis (AFO)

Photo credit: AliMed

Solid AFOs

Ankle-foot orthosis (AFO) are braces for the lower leg and foot that are often prescribed to patients with gait abnormalities. They are lightweight plastic braces composed of a plastic material that can be secured to the calf with the use of a strap; this strap also runs along and under the foot. The foot itself sits in a comfortable, accommodative shoe, AFOs possess a characteristic L-shape, which in effect assists by holding the foot and ankle in the appropriate position when performing certain tasks. Individuals suffering from disorders that severely affect muscular function, i.e. stroke, spinal cord injuries, cerebral palsy and polio patients have a greater need for such devices in order to remedy irregularities that may occur in movement, especially during gait. AFOs can work in two ways: either correctly positioning a limb with contracted musculature in the normal position or supporting wasting or weak limbs.

Articulated/hinged AFOs

Articulated or hinged AFOs are made up of two separate components that are not continuous with each other but instead “articulate” with one another with a hinge mechanism. While the components themselves are composed of plastic, the joints/hinge are usually made with metal or other composite materials. The hinged moment present in these AFOs allows unrestricted and free movement of the ankle joint. These AFOs are often prescribed to reduce the rigidity in movement so that patients can perform daily tasks (e.g. walking up the stairs or rising from a chair).

Richie braces

A Richie brace is a custom ankle brace that is made after taking a cast of the patient’s ankle and foot. This type of brace is used to treat chronic conditions of the foot and ankle where the muscles are not working effectively or there are structural problems. It can be used for a number of conditions including drop-foot, ankle injuries, severe flat foot, and tendon damage. It is a lightweight design that is preferred by patients who are very active. It comes with leg uprights for maximum support, and as it is custom-made it perfectly fits the ankle joint axis of the patient’s foot. Moreover, it has an orthotic base that is also specifically moulded to your foot. As with all AFOs they do need to have good quality shoes that they can fit into – shoes with an adjustable strap, wide heel cup, and stable back and base are preferred. This brace provides a wonderful non-surgical option to complex pathologies of the leg, foot, and ankle.

Overall, the ankle foot orthosis is an efficient therapy for weakness in the lower extremity musculature and can effectively help weak muscle groups in the leg. A thorough assessment is necessary to ensure that the AFO chosen successfully remedies the given condition. Our team at the Perth Foot & Ankle Clinic are experienced in the use of AFOs and Richie braces.