Splints, Braces, and Orthotics
From time to time, you may see someone with a brace on and wonder what it is for. You may even see kiddos with braces on too. When you think of a brace, the first thing that probably comes to mind is: “they must have some sort of injury”. Although braces and splints are oftentimes related to injury, more often than not they are used to help provide support to an area of the body that has poor muscle function, low muscle tone, or just needs a little more than what their body as able to provide. It also may be that they help put that particular body part/region in a more appropriate alignment and/or may even be providing a low-load, long duration stretch to help manage things such as chronic muscle tightness, high muscle tone, or contractures. A contracture is defined as “a condition of shortening and hardening of muscles, tendons, or other tissue, often leading to deformity and rigidity of joint” (Oxford dictionary). This ultimately will improve their passive range of motion and allow a therapist to help the kiddo move through that new passive range and therefore improve strength and active range of motion needed for activities.
The most common brace or orthotic you will most likely see or encounter personally with yourself or child are those used for the foot, ankle or leg (aka lower extremity). Orthotics for the lower extremity range from shoe inserts to a small brace that stops just above the ankle to those that go higher up the leg. Starting at the least supportive orthotic, shoe inserts are typically used to help provide arch support and put the foot in optimal alignment to correct or prevent ailments such as pain in the foot, leg, or back as well as improve someone’s overall walking mechanics to prevent future injury. Next, there are the orthotics that go to the level of the ankle. These are called supramalleolar orthotics or SMO’s for short. These are common orthotics that can provide the alignment correction of a foot orthotic with additional support at the ankle. They are often used for kiddos who need a little more stability to either learn to walk or make walking more efficient and safer as well as for those who consistently toe walk, among other reasons. Finally, those braces that go up higher provide the same benefits as the SMO’s with even more support. These are typically recommended for those who have a more significant degree of deficits.
As a parent with a kiddo whose therapist recommends a splint, brace, or orthotic, it can be worrisome. You may be thinking that you don’t want your child to have to wear one or like the way they look. It is important to know that these supportive devices are only recommended when they are absolutely needed, and are prescribed in order to make your child more functional and independent now as well as make things easier for them in the future as they grow and get older. These devices will not only help them learn how to walk, but can help them with all activities of daily living as well as skills that are important for school and community-based activities, and later in life with driving and work skills.
If you have a little one and have noticed that they often fall, have an abnormal looking walk or run, or any of the above mentioned deficits, then a splint, brace, or orthotic may be helpful. To know whether or not something like this would help, contact a therapist for an evaluation. You can find more information on our website at: www.abcpediatrictherapy.com.