What Is an Orthosis?

An orthosis is a type of brace or other wearable device that serves one or more of the following purposes:

  • Improvement of mobility
  • Immobilization of an injured body part to promote healing
  • Correction of biomechanical misalignments
  • Prevention of injuries
  • Reduction of weight bearing and pain

Some orthotic devices are relatively inexpensive, over-the-counter products: examples include simple forearm braces with velcro straps or orthopedic shoe inserts. Over-the-counter orthotics are often worn by people who are recovering from minor injuries or hoping to alleviate mild discomforts. Other orthoses require prescription from a medical professional such as an orthotist. This may be necessary for people recovering from a more substantial injury, or those with conditions such as cerebral palsy and spina bifida.

Prefabricated vs Custom-Made Orthoses

Many orthotic devices (especially over-the-counter ones) are prefabricated, which means that they are made without a specific client in mind. However, in many cases, prefabricated orthoses can – and should be – modified to suit the individual wearer. Generally, prefabricated orthotic devices are recommended for short-term use and to treat less serious conditions.

Custom-made orthoses are designed to meet an individual’s needs, and are made by taking a cast or mold of the body part(s) that require treatment.

Types of Orthoses

Orthotic devices are often named after the anatomical part or parts they are designed to fit. For example, an orthosis worn on an ankle and foot is called an ankle-foot orthotic, or AFO. Likewise, an orthotis that fits over the knee, ankle, and foot is known as a knee-ankle-foot-orthotic, or KAFO. Broader categories include:

  • Upper limb orthoses
  • Lower limb orthoses
  • Neck and spinal cord orthoses
  • Compression care garments: These are worn by people with poor circulation or who must remain in one position for extended periods of time (for example, standing all day or sitting in a wheelchair all day). Compression wear can be used to treat deep vein thrombosis and to reduce swelling.

Other Treatments

Orthotic devices function best when used in conjunction with other treatments and therapies, especially when attempting to improve motor function. For example, a person with cerebral palsy may benefit from muscle relaxants such as baclofen and botox, surgeries such as selective dorsal rhizotomy (SDR), and physical therapy sessions. Orthotics

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