As you’re searching for foot drop treatments, your physical therapist will likely recommend an ankle foot orthosis (AFO).
There’s an upside and a downside to using an AFO brace – and, unfortunately, no one usually tells you both sides.
The cause of this indiscretion could be that an AFO brace is an easy prescription: a therapist can simply send you home with a brace and it should improve your safety for years to come.
But the hidden danger is that an AFO actually creates an entirely new problem, which you’ll learn soon.
In this article, you’ll learn when it’s appropriate to use an AFO brace for foot drop safely, so that you can achieve the best results.
Here’s the scoop if you want the fullest possible recovery from foot drop:
The Upside: AFO Braces for Foot Drop Improve Your Safety!
Usually, an AFO is absolutely essential if you have foot drop. They help keep your foot in place so that you can move safely and prevent falls after stroke.
Although there are consequences to using an AFO brace for foot drop, you should absolutely use them if your therapist recommends it!
Seriously. Do not stop wearing your AFO cold turkey. We will discuss a safe way to wean yourself off later.
But first, let’s discuss why you may want to consider weaning yourself off that AFO brace…
The Danger: AFO Braces Actually Prevent You from Getting Better Long-Term
AFO braces are like crutches. They’re useful while you’re healing, but you’ll need to push yourself past the crutch at some point if you want to achieve a full recovery.
Stroke patients who use AFOs for too long can end up with learned nonuse and completely lose the use of their foot.
Because the therapists are spot on when they say “use it or lose it!”
Seriously – if you don’t use your foot, you’ll lose your foot mobility.
The goal of stroke recovery isn’t to merely find compensation techniques for everything. The goal is to get back to life as usual – and we’re betting that you didn’t use an AFO brace before stroke.
Luckily, if you challenge yourself to regain use of your foot, then you can outgrow the need for an inconvenient AFO altogether!
How to Overcome Dependency on Foot Drop Braces
In order to regain the use of your foot, you need to reconnect your mind to your muscles through neuroplasticity.
By repeating foot drop exercises over and over, neuroplasticity will start to engage and your brain will get better and better at controlling your foot.
Over time, your foot mobility will gradually improve from all your hard work.
So, Should You Use an AFO Brace for Foot Drop?
So, what should you do? Should you keep the AFO or kick it to the curb?
Our advice is to continue to use your AFO brace because it’s important for your safety and wellbeing.
Just don’t stop there!
This will prevent your brain from completely forgetting how to use your foot, and it will help you slowly start to outgrow the need for an AFO.
Repetitive practice is how you will regain independence and recover from foot drop.
As you put in the hard work and move those muscles, you might be able to graduate to smaller and smaller AFO braces for foot drop.
Until one day, you don’t need an AFO at all.