What Are Ankle/Foot Orthotics?
Orthotics is a medical field concerned with the design, manufacture and use of aids used to support weak limbs or direct the proper function of limbs, in this case the foot and ankle. Ankle-foot orthotics, or AFOs, are braces worn at the ankle that encompass some or all of the foot. Diseases that affect the musculature or weaken the affected area require AFOs to strengthen the muscles or train in the proper direction. Tight muscles that need to be lengthened and loosened also benefit from AFOs.
When we think of diseases that affect the musculature we think of the big boys: muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, polio and multiple sclerosis. We rarely think that arthritis and stroke can affect the musculature or that there are some who "toe in". But whatever trauma affects that musculature, there is a way to correct it. The orthosis helps to control range of motion, provide support by stabilizing walk, correct deformities and manage pain load. A podiatrist would be consulted for those who "toe in", for instance, or an arthritis sufferer whose ankles suffer through walking on the job or perhaps a victim of stroke whose musculature is wasting away and requires strength.
Before the advent of modern orthotic devices, it wasn’t uncommon to see polio victims wearing metal braces from mid thigh to the bottom of the foot, or children who "toed in" wearing metal braces around their ankle and foot. However, both designs and materials have improved dramatically, allowing for new levels of comfort, functionality, and appearance. Many orthotics are now made from plastics in the shape of an L and designed to fit inside a corrective shoe. These can be rigid, buckling at the calf and extending the length of the foot to support the ankle. This same design except with a hinged ankle provides support while walking by normalizing the gait. In the past boots lined with leather and fiberboard provided the rigidity needed for correction and support. Now corrective shoes are available with built up soles to correct the gait or manage pain by sharing it with another area when the foot spreads during walking.
The podiatrist would prescribe this orthosis in the rigid L shape because the foot moves on a hinge. If the hinge isn't functioning as intended due to an injury or malformation, the muscles tighten up, thus making it difficult to flex the foot. When we walk, the foot flexes and muscles stretch. This brace or AFO would support the ankle and musculature during flexion of the foot, in much the same way a knee brace works. Corrective shoes are for people whose feet hit the ground backward, causing tight muscles and arch problems. Wedges and rocker bars on the heels correct the step to heel first and rock onto the ball of the foot, resulting in relaxed musculature and strengthened ankles.
Appearance also counts when we consider a particular support device, especially if the item is intended for regular, daily wear. The L shaped orthotic is contoured to the calf and flesh-colored, fitting into a sneaker or dress shoe. As present, corrective shoes are more attractive than past models, enabling patients wear such devices with greater comfort and confidence.
For hundreds of years, women have been wearing various kinds of high-heels for mostly aesthetic reasons. Women who wear high-heels appear to be taller and to have longer and thinner legs, and the wearer’s gait and posture changes. Though high-heels have had an association with femininity and have kept them popular over the years, there are definite health problems caused by wearing them too frequently.
The motion of the ankle joints is limited when heels are worn. The ankle joint is very important to the body when it comes to walking. Because of their location, these joints have a great deal of weight put on them. Thus, it is very important to keep them as healthy as possible. The Achilles tendon is the main tendon in the ankle. Wearing high-heels too often, studies have shown, can cause the calf muscle and Achilles tendon to shorten and stiffen, which can cause problems when shoes without heels are worn.
By putting a great deal of pressure on the ball of the foot, by forcing the toes into a small toe box, high-heels can cause or may worsen many foot problems, such as corns, hammertoe, bunions, Morton’s neuroma and plantar fasciitis.
Not only does wearing very high-heels regularly have negative effects on the feet, the rest of the body can suffer as well. The knees, one of the most important joints in the entire body, can be affected by wearing high-heels. High-heels causes the knees to stay bent all the time. Also, it can cause them to bend slightly inward as well. Doctors believe that women can suffer from osteoarthritis later in life because of constantly walking like this. By limiting the natural motion of the foot during walking, high-heels also cause an increased in stress on the knees.
Similarly, the back may also be affected by high-heels because it causes the back to go out of alignment. If high-heels are worn constantly, the spine’s ability to absorb shock can cause continued back pain. They can compress the vertebrae of the lower back, and can overuse the back muscles.
However, this is not to say that high-heels can never be worn. If worn occasionally, they will not cause serious problems. They should not be worn every day in order to avoid the long-term physical health problems of the feet, knees, ankles, and back like mentioned above.
Foot and ankle injuries are common among people who participate in sports. Several factors contribute to this. They include failing to stretch or warm up properly, not wearing the proper type shoe and not taping or providing other types of support for the ankle or foot. The most common foot and ankle injuries suffered by people involved in sport are plantar fasciitis, ankle sprains and Achilles tendon damage or ruptures. If not treated properly they can lead to permanent disability.
Treating these injuries is relatively simple if they are identified and addressed early. Many athletes dismiss the initial aches and pains associated with injury as just soreness or tired muscles. Their first response is usually to try to work through it. This can lead to serious problems. Many minor injuries are made far more serious when athletes continue to put strain and pressure on them. That attitude can change a mild strain into a serious strain and a minor tear into a rupture. Athletes should have unusual aches and pains evaluated by a skilled, licensed medical professional.
Plantar fasciitis is a painful injury. It is inflammation of the plantar fascia, the thick fibrous band of tissue running from the heel to the base of the toes. Left untreated it can lead to a degenerative disease called plantar fasciosis. There are several effective treatments for this ailment. Doctors often proscribe rest, massages, stretching, night splints, physical therapy, anti-inflammatory medication, corticosteroids or surgery usually in that order. The most effective treatment for plantar fasciitis is orthotics like foot supports. Surgery is occasionally used as a last resort, but it comes with the risk of nerve damage and infection and often does not stop the pain.
The Achilles tendon is the largest tendon in the body. It connects the calf muscles to the heel bone. Running, jumping and walking all impact this tendon. Two common injuries to the Achilles tendon are tendonitis and a rupture of the tendon. Tendonitis is inflammation in the tendon often caused by an increase in the amount and intensity of stress placed on it. It can either be treated non-surgically with rest, ice or anti-inflammatory medication or surgery may be required. A rupture (tear) of the Achilles tendon can be treated by placing the lower leg in a cast for several weeks or with surgery. Many physicians feel surgery is the better option because it lowers the risk of re-ruptures. Both methods require 4 to 6 months of rehabilitation.
Ankle sprains are the most common sports related foot and ankle injury. A sprain occurs when the ligament holding the ankle bones and joint stretches beyond its normal range. It can be treated non-surgically with a combination of rest, ice wrapped around the joint for 30 minutes immediately after injury, compression by a bandage and elevating the ankle above the heart for 48 hours. This combination is referred to as RICE. Severe ankle sprains in which the ligaments are torn may require arthroscopic or reconstructive surgery followed by rehabilitation.
Many common running injuries are caused by overuse and overtraining. Several common injuries can occur due to running. When the back of the kneecap starts wearing away and starts causing pain in the knee, this is commonly referred to as runner’s knee. Runner’s knee can occur because of decreased strength in the quadricep muscles or shoes that do not offer proper support to the inside of the forefoot. Runner’s knee usually is treated with strengthening exercises focusing on the quad muscle and sports orthotic. To prevent runner’s knee, efforts should be focused on hip strengthening. Physical therapy is also beneficial in helping to learn the best exercises to heal runner’s knee. To prevent runner’s knee, strengthen the quad muscles to keep the kneecap aligned.
Overtraining is one cause of a common running injury called iliotibial band syndrome, which occurs when the iliotibial band gets irritated, causing pain and discomfort to the outside knee area. Another common running injury is known as plantar fasciitis, which occurs when the bone in the foot becomes inflamed and irritated. This injury primarily causes pain in the foot. Causes can include a high arch, incorrect footwear, tight muscles and flat feet. The best way to avoid plantar fasciitis is stretching and proper footwear.
Stress fractures are a common injury for runners. These fractures can occur because of overtraining, lack of calcium or running style. In runners, it is common for stress fractures to occur in several locations including the inner bone of the leg, the thighbone, the bone at the base of the spine and the toe bones in the foot. The best approach to preventing stress fractures are proper footwear maintenance and running on a surface with enough “give” to absorb some of the shock produced during running.
Besides overtraining, other causes of these common running injuries are poorly fitting footwear, irregular biomechanics, and lack of flexibility and strength. The best way to avoid running injuries is to prevent them. Fortunately, each of these common running injuries can be prevented. To avoid running injuries it is highly recommended to wear only footwear that fits properly and that suits your needs. Running shoes are the only protective gear that runners have to safeguard them from injury; therefore, choosing the correct footwear for running is important. It is important, too, to think about other aspects of your running routine like training schedules, flexibility and strengthening, and tailor them to your needs in order to minimize the possibility of injury. Regular stretching before and after running should be considered also when trying to avoid running injuries. Stretching keeps muscles limber resulting in greater flexibility.