How Do AFOs Work?

There are several types of ankle foot orthoses (AFOs). Some are prefabricated and some are custom fabricated, made just for you. Prefabricated AFO’s are generally used to prevent or support injuries, provide pain relief, and provide support in a plane of motion such as lifting the foot upwards. Custom AFOs are used to provide stability or support in multiply planes of motion (up/down and side to side). These AFOs are usually used for long term or to aide in rehabilitation for a period of time. Below is a list of different types of AFO’s and some of the reasons they may be used.

• Ankle Gauntlets: These types of AFOs tend to be shorter than most of the others listed below. They are often made with polypropylene plastic (or carbon fiber), leather, padding, and use velcro or laces to provide a closure. Comes in both a prefabricated and custom fabricated version. They usually are intended to provide side to side (medial/lateral) support. They can be made to articulate but they are often solid at the ankle and do not allow for any up and down motion at the ankle. Often used to treat sprains, arthritic conditions, degenerative joint disease, and foot deformities. These types of orthotics provide a great deal of support and are usually very comfortable, providing pain relief. 

• Posterior Leaf Spring AFOs: A design that can be made out of a variety of plastics or carbon fiber composites. Comes in both a prefabricated and custom fabricated version. It generally runs up the leg and terminates just above the calf. The AFO itself has a thin strut running up the back of the AFO. This strut is more flexible than the solid ankle type of AFO. Allowing the foot and ankle some motion to flex upward, yet prevents the foot from dropping (drop foot) when swinging through to take a step. This type of AFO is used for many conditions including drop foot, strokes, hemiplegia, nerve damage etc. 

• Solid Ankle AFOs: This type of AFO provide maximum support and safety. Commonly made out of plastics but can be made with carbon fiber with padding, and the conventional types are made out of metal and leather. It provides support in all planes of motion and maintains neutral positioning of the foot and ankle. This AFO can be used with a variety of diagnoses. 

• Articulating AFOs: There are many designs of articulating AFOs. They all are usually made with plastic, carbon fiber, and sometimes metal and leather. There are many types of ankle joints that the AFO may be fabricated with. Some of these joints will provide dorsiflexion assistance (helping to lift the foot up when walking), some have plantar flexion resistance (preventing the foot from pointing downwards), and some perform both actions. Some of the joints have a great deal of adjustability and some have little. The orthotist will be able to determine exactly what support you need. These AFOs provide a great deal of support while also allowing for some motion at the ankle. These AFOs tend to be a little more bulky due to the joints, but the extra bulk is worth the added functionality. 

When using an AFO you may experience an area of irritation or redness. Always let your orthotist know. We can often fix them very easily and it makes us happy knowing that you are comfortable and using your orthosis. Always make sure to follow any wear schedule and cleaning instructions that you are provided with. Ankle foot orthosis might be bulky and un-cosmetic but they are very helpful in recovery or day to day life. They will add functionality to your life and will often prevent further complications. Orthotist are always happy to adjust the AFO, so don’t hesitate to call your local orthotist. If you have a problem or special request they can usually figure something out. We are very inventive people! 

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