What Are Ankle/Foot Orthosis?

Ankle-foot orthosis 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 orthosis to strengthen the muscles or rehabilitate them and other joints of the foot and ankle. Tight muscles that need to be lengthened and loosened also benefit from orthosis.

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, but these are both conditions that can negatively affect the muscles in your foot and ankle.

However, the good news is that whatever trauma there is that affects those muscles, there is a way to correct it. The orthosis helps to control range of motion, provide support by stabilizing walking, correct deformities, and manage pain loads. A podiatrist would be consulted for those who have experienced direct trauma to the foot or ankle, have an arthritic condition that is affecting their joints, or has developed another kind of muscular disease.

Before the advent of modern orthosis devices, it wasn’t uncommon to see polio victims wearing metal braces from mid thigh to the bottom of the foot, or children 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 orthosis 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 orthosis 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 orthosis is contoured to the calf and flesh-colored, fitting into a sneaker or dress shoe. At present, corrective shoes are more attractive than past models, enabling patients wear such devices with greater comfort and confidence.

Hammertoe: No Walk in the Park!

Hammertoe is a painful deformity of the second, third, or fourth toe, frequently caused by improper mechanics—the way a person walks or the shoes they wear that do not allow room for the deformity. Similar to mallet toe and claw toe, hammertoe involves different joints of the toe and foot. Shoes that are too narrow or short for the foot, or have excessively high heels, can cause of hammertoe. Improperly sized shoes force the toes into a bent position for long periods, causing the muscles to shorten and bend the toes into the hammertoe deformity.

Other causes of hammertoe may be complications from RA (rheumatoid arthritis), osteoarthritis, trauma to the foot, heredity, or CVA (cerebral vascular accident). Symptoms of hammertoe include, but may not be limited to, pain and difficult mobility of the toes, deformity, and calluses or corns from toes abrading one another.

A patient experiencing symptoms of hammertoe should seek examination by a physician, specifically a podiatrist. Podiatrists diagnose and treat disorders of the foot. If the doctor finds the involved toes have retained some flexibility, treatment may involve simple exercise, physical therapy, and a better fit to shoes worn by the patient. Treatment often targets controlling the mechanics, such as walking, that cause hammertoe by using custom orthotics.

In more advanced cases, where the toes have become rigid and inflexible, the doctor may suggest surgery. The operation would consist of incising the toe to relieve pressure on the tendons. The doctor may re-align tendons and remove small pieces of bone in order to straighten the toe. The insertion of pins may be necessary to fix bones in the proper position while the toe heals. Usually the patient is able to return home on the day of surgery.

If surgery is necessary, it is important to follow the postoperative directions of your physician. Theses may include various stretches, attempting to crumple a towel placed flat against your feet, or picking up marbles with your toes. Striving to wear shoes with low heels and ample toe space will ensure healthy feet and toes. Avoid closed shoes and high heels. Laced shoes tend to be roomier and more comfortable. Shoes with a minimum of one half inch space between the tip of your longest toe and the inside of the shoe will provide adequate space, relieve pressure on your toes, and prevent hammertoe from re-occurring.

Some tips on feet may include purchasing shoes at mid-day as your feet are smaller in the morning and swell as the day progresses. Ensure that she shoes you buy are both the same size and have the store stretch shoes at painful points to provide for optimum comfort.

Bunions

The term bunion refers to an enlargement of the base joint of the toe, the connection to the foot. This enlargement may be formed of swollen tissue or a bony growth, and is caused by the shifting of the bones in the big toe inward, toward the other toes of the foot. The area around the base of the big toe may become inflamed, red, and painful.

Genetic factors are important in the formation of bunions – people who get bunions are usually genetically predisposed to this bone displacement, and may cause its onset by wearing improperly fitting shoes, or by running or walking in a way that causes stress to the feet. Another common cause for bunions is wearing high heeled shoes. The weight of the body in these shoes pushes the toes into an unnatural position, possibly causing bone displacement.

A podiatrist who specializes in foot structure and bio-mechanics will be able to quickly diagnose bunions. Bunions must be distinguished from gout or arthritic conditions, so blood tests may be necessary. The podiatrist may order a radiological exam to provide an image of the bone structure. If the x-ray demonstrates an enlargement of the joint near the base of the toe and a shifting toward the smaller toes, this is indicative of a bunion.

Wearing wider shoes can remove the pressure on the bunion and reduce pain. High heeled shoes should be eliminated for a period of time as this type of shoe generally pushes the big toe outward toward the smaller toes. This may be enough to eliminate the pain associated with bunions; however, if pain persists, anti-inflammatory drugs may be prescribed. Severe pain may require an injection of steroids near the bunion. Orthotics for shoes may be prescribed which, by altering the pressure on the foot, can be helpful in reducing pain. These do not correct the problem, but by eliminating the pain, they can provide relief.

For cases that do not respond to these methods of treatment, surgery can be done to reposition the toe. A surgeon may do this by taking out a section of bone, or may rearrange the ligaments and tendons in the toe to help keep it properly aligned. It may be necessary even after surgery to wear more comfortable shoes that do not put undue pressure on the toe as the big toe can easily move back to its orientation toward the smaller toes.

When Foot Surgery is Necessary

Foot surgery may be necessary for a variety of reasons, but it is normally reserved for cases in which less invasive procedures have failed to help with the problem. Cases in which surgery may be deemed necessary include, but are not limited to, surgically removing deformities of the foot (such as bone spurs and bunions), problems with arthritis that have caused severe bone issues within the foot, and reconstruction to attend to injuries caused by accidents and congenital malformation (such as club foot and flat feet). Foot surgery may be necessary for individuals of all ages and races.

If you find yourself in need of foot surgery, the reason why the surgery has been found to be necessary will dictate exactly what kind of surgery you need. If you have to have a growth, such as a bunion, removed, then you may undergo a bunionectomy. If your bones need to be realigned and fused together, then you may undergo a surgical fusion of the foot. If it is nerve pain and problems that you are enduring, then you may need to undergo surgery in which the tissue that surrounds the painful nerve is surgically removed. Normally other, less serious treatments are first applied when a problem is discovered, but if those treatments are found to be ineffective, surgical techniques are considered and used.

Even though surgery of the foot is usually reserved as a last resort by most physicians, there are some benefits if you and your doctor choose to use surgery to fix the problem. The first is that the pain associated with the issue is normally relieved, which means that you can finally resume the activities your foot problem was preventing you from participating in. The second benefit is that, once you have the surgery completed, the problem is generally eliminated since it has finally been addressed.

History of podiatry has shown that foot surgery techniques continue to advance every year. Endoscopic surgery is just one of the many advancements that have been made in the field of foot surgery. As technology improves, foot surgical techniques will also continue to improve. Many procedures can now be completed using a very small incision and smaller, more refined instruments. Because of these better tools, surgeries are becoming less invasive, and recovery time has become a great deal shorter. Shorter recovery periods mean that you will be back on your feet in no time.

Contact Us

New England & Ankle Specialists

(781) 944-4044
30 New Crossing Road Suite 311 Reading, MA 01876