Orthotics are fabricated devices used to correct misalignment in the body or provide support for a body part. They are available for numerous areas of the body and may be used temporarily or over many years. An orthosis is designed and fitted by an orthotist, often in conjunction with an orthopedic doctor, and may need to be replaced as growth of the body part or wear of the orthotic brace occur. Orthoses are used to control, facilitate or restrict movement and improve alignment to address pain and instability.
Braces are typically made of plastic composites and may have metal or elastic materials to fasten the device. Usually, a cast is made of the area to be braced, which is used to create the final orthotic. Plastics are lightweight and durable, and are generally worn over a layer of clothing to prevent chafing or irritation. Some over the counter braces are available, typically made from elastic fabrics. These can provide some support, but are not comparable in quality or efficacy to custom made orthoses.
An orthosis can serve a number of purposes, including either restricting or facilitating movement of a body part. When significant weakness occurs over particular muscle groups, when a fracture is present, or when movement could cause damage to an area, a brace can be used to stabilize the area and prevent movement. For example, in some patients movements in the spinal area could cause damage to the spinal cord due to fracture, or muscular or vertebral instability. In such cases, a thoracolumbosacral orthosis (TLSO) may be used to keep the entire back still as the extremities move.
One of the most common types of orthotic is the ankle-foot orthosis (AFO). This brace is used to support the ankle and foot and is very common in young children with developmental disabilities and those who are severely flat footed. It is also used in patients with foot drop, or those who have had a stroke, as both conditions can cause nerve damage in the ankle area that makes walking difficult. AFOs can be hinged or unhinged, with the latter providing less stability but greater freedom of movement.
When poor alignment of bones exists, an orthosis can help to correct the issue. One of the most common applications for orthotic equipment to correct misalignment is an orthotic jacket for scoliosis. The jacket helps to improve the abnormal curvature of the spine by putting pressure on the spinal area. Scoliosis can cause pain and difficulty with motor tasks, but an orthotic jacket can reduce pain and delay the need for surgical intervention.