Your ankle foot orthosis (AFO) is vitally important to helping you move around to the best of your ability. You’ll depend on it every single day, for hours at a time, which means you have to care for your AFO and keep it in proper working condition. Not to mention, you’ll want to be as comfortable as possible, which means knowing how to wear one.
At BioTech, we help patients with their AFOs every day. Over the years, we’ve gathered tons of advice and helpful information for our patients that we’ve learned, not just from being ankle foot orthosis experts but also from listening to our patients and the feedback they’ve given us.
Here, we’ve condensed years of insight into 10 tips for wearing and caring for your AFO that you can follow to get the most from your orthotic device.
1. Wear the Right Shoe
One mistake people make is thinking that just any shoe will do, and that they can wear the same-size shoe with their AFO.
To be comfortable, wear a lace-up shoe that can fit both your foot and the AFO. You’re looking for a snug, comfortable fit that still gives room for the AFO to move around a little bit.
The heel height matters, too; you want heel height that is the same across all of your shoes. The wrong heel height will affect how you walk and the alignment of your device.
2. It’s All About the Sock
We recommend wearing a cotton sock between your skin and the AFO so that you’re more comfortable and the AFO doesn’t rub up against your exposed skin. It should be long enough that you can roll or fold the top of the sock back over the AFO, so the sock stays in place and doesn’t ride down on your leg.
Some of our patients have said that wool socks also work well because they tend to be thicker. Go with what makes you comfortable and what works best for you.
During humid times of the year, you can even sprinkle baby powder on your leg before putting on the sock to cut down on moisture and friction. Consider changing socks several times a day, too.
3. Practice Makes Perfect
People who get new AFOs tend to have problems walking with their devices at first. But, this will go away with practice. Practice does make perfect. Give yourself plenty of chances to walk around with your physical therapist - or walk around in the safety of your own home - before you venture outside.
4. Check for Pressure Areas
Sometimes, your AFO will cause pressure areas to form. These are red areas where pressure has been placed by the AFO and is causing discomfort or possibly reducing circulation in your foot.
Check for pressure areas often. If you have a reddened area that doesn’t go away after 20 minutes, make sure you keep a careful eye on it and call your orthotist if you have concerns about the fit of your AFO. An adjustment may be necessary.
Speaking of adjustments...
5. Adjustments Will Happen
Expect for you and your orthotist to have to make some adjustments to your AFO before you find the perfect fit. This is completely normal. Don’t stress out if the AFO doesn’t fit just right at the beginning. Over time, you’ll find that ideal fit through careful adjustments with your orthotic professional.
6. Start Slow
If you’ve just started wearing an AFO, you need to give your body time to adjust. So, start by wearing the brace for just an hour at a time before taking it off and resting. For the first few days, alternate between wearing the orthosis and resting your leg.
Over the next week, you can gradually increase your wearing time until you’re wearing it comfortably for as long as you need.
7. Cleaning Your Device
Your device will consist of several thermoplastic components. These need to be cleaned at least once per week. Use mild soap when cleaning these sections, and be sure to completely rinse the parts after you’re done cleaning them.
Also, don’t soak your AFO in water. Just clean it by hand and avoid soaking, which can damage your device.
8. Lubricating Your Device
The metal joints will also have to be lubricated from time to time. Your orthotist can help you find the proper type of lubricant and tell you what kind of lubrication schedule you need to be on. Proper and regular lubrication is one of the best ways you can keep your AFO working just like it should.
9. Be Careful How You Dry Your Device
AFOs are vulnerable to direct heat sources. Let them air dry at room temperature. Make sure you don’t use a hair dryer or any other source of direct heat - such as an open fire or a space heater - to dry your AFO. You can towel-dry the device, then leave it lying in the open. One way you can accelerate the device’s drying time is to use a fan.
10. Don’t Make Adjustments Yourself
It’s really tempting to want to tinker with an AFO yourself, but we highly recommend only allowing an orthotist to make adjustments. These devices are carefully designed, finely tuned pieces of equipment that need a qualified hand to adjust them.
Ankle foot orthoses are terrific devices that allow a greater degree of mobility for countless patients from all walks of life. If you have an AFO, follow these AFO care tips to keep your device - and you - working smoothly.
For more information, contact your orthotist today.