Ankle Foot Orthoses (AFOs): How are they changing?

What are AFOs?

An AFO, also known as an Ankle-Foot Orthosis, is a lower-limb brace worn by children. It helps those living with life-long conditions which affect movement and coordination by stabilising the foot, ankle, and lower leg – improving their control and aiding mobility.

What conditions do AFOs treat?

There are many conditions AFOs are prescribed and used for, including:

  • Cerebral palsy
  • Neurological conditions
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Spina bifida
  • Tetraplegia
  • Low tone pronationHigh tone pronation/supination
  • Ankle injuries
  • Knee hyperextension
  • Crouch gait walking
  • Toe walking
  • Drop foot

Children with cerebral palsy

One of the most common prescriptions of AFOs is for children who have cerebral palsy. Historically, cerebral palsy occurs around two per 1,000 births in the UK, with 1,400 infants being born with the condition every year – displaying varying levels of impairment and subsequent disability. Physically, cerebral palsy can cause mobility, balance, alignment and muscle control issues, leading to abnormal posture and stiff joints.Naturally, parents want their children to have the best start in life. So, they’ll work alongside their doctors and therapists to ensure the limitations caused by cerebral palsy are minimised to give their little ones a brighter future.

Finding the right AFO

Your child’s physiotherapist will recommend an AFO if they feel it’s the correct treatment to help your child with their walking development. While some parents successfully find suitable, lightweight and supporting AFOs for their child, some AFOs can be very bulky, heavy, uncomfortable and too rigid to actually help with their walking. Therefore, the AFO’s prescription and manufacturing method is key to ensuring it helps your child’s condition.

Different manufacturing methods

Traditionally, ‘boots and irons’ were the only treatment that technology would allow, which were heavy, uncomfortable, and offered only limited opportunity for control.
In the last 30 or 40 years, ‘polymer technologies’ have allowed moulded AFOs to be developed, usually made to a cast of the foot and lower leg which is held in a corrected position. These traditional methods have really improved the control and comfort for children starting to walk. However, even these have their limitations. From material thickness, selective flexibility, ventilation, to composite material usage, each AFO created is dependent on a good relationship and understanding between the orthotist and technician(s) to get the best result. Often, the limitation of prescriptions meant that the same product would essentially be prescribed too, whatever the needs of the child.
More recently, 3D printing and developments in scanning technologies, design, ventilation, and selective flexibility have become available to orthotists, physiotherapists and their patients. While traditional methods waste huge amounts of plaster and plastic materials, with often three times as much material as is used in the actual product, 3D printing has no material waste until the final product is made. There is also no filled cast model, plaster, water, technician modifications, or large sheets of plastic heated.

3D Ortho’s AFO called ‘Piro’ offers a full custom design range with unlimited variations in flexibility and control to match every child’s needs. The Piro is specified, designed and created virtually, accurately and quickly, with no guesswork involved. It combines the best of automation’s artificial intelligence, continual visual checking and measurement verification to ensure each product is made 100% as prescribed. Plus, with children’s size, weight and activity levels all being different, we have used advanced design and testing techniques to ensure that the Piro range will not fail in use and be exactly right for your child.

Move forward with confidence with 3D technology

Ready to discover a faster process and more innovative treatment to provide your child with an AFO that is comfortable, performance-enhancing, thin, light, and 100% personalised?
Ensure an AFO is the right treatment for your child and read more about the process by visiting our paediatric foot and ankle treatment page.

Get in touch

If you want to know more about our treatments and the orthoses we offer, get in touch today by filling out our contact forms and one of our friendly experts will get back to you.