As you’re searching for foot drop treatments, your doctor or 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. Rather than letting your toes drag on the ground, they help your ankle to keep your foot in place so that you can move safely and prevent falls after stroke.
Although there may be consequences to using an AFO brace for foot drop, you should absolutely use one if your therapist recommends it!
Seriously, do not stop wearing your AFO cold turkey. This may put you at an increased risk of falls, as you would not be used to walking without it. You also will probably not demonstrate much improvement in your foot drop if you simply stop wearing your AFO without any further intervention or exercise. 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 your 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 ankle.
Therapists are spot on when they say “use it or lose it!”
If you don’t use your ankle, you’ll lose your ankle 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 ankle and foot, then you may outgrow the need for an inconvenient AFO altogether!
How to Overcome Dependency on Foot Drop Braces
In order to regain the use of your ankle and 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 ankle and foot.
Over time, your ankle and foot mobility will gradually improve from all your hard work. As it improves, with your doctor or therapist’s recommendation, you may begin to practice walking without your AFO in a safe environment.
So, Should You Use an AFO Brace for Foot Drop?
So, what should you do? Should you keep the AFO or gradually wean off of it?
Our advice is to continue to use your AFO brace according to your doctor or therapist’s recommendations 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 ankle and foot, and it will help you slowly start to outgrow the need for an AFO.
Repetitive practice is how you may 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, hopefully you won’t need an AFO at all.