A drop foot brace is an orthotic device to provide ankle support to a patient with drop foot, a condition where the toes tend to turn downwards, dragging on the ground while people walk. It is important to treat the underlying cause of the medical problem, but while the patient is in treatment, wearing a brace can help her walk more comfortably. In addition, bracing will prevent problems like injuries to the knees and hip caused by gait changes, a common problem as patients attempt to alter their gait to compensate for the foot problem.
Several brace designs are available. Some hold the foot at a rigid 90 degree angle to stabilize the patient's ankle. This does not allow for a completely normal gait, but does prevent the toes from dragging. Other braces allow for flexion of the ankle, usually limiting the amount of downturn to make sure the toes stay in a relatively neutral position. A drop foot brace can also simply provide loose support of the ankle in the form of a piece of springy material molded to the joint, keeping the ankle in place without fixing it firmly.
Some braces are small enough to fit inside shoes, allowing patients to wear normal footwear while the brace is on. In other cases, it may not be possible to wear shoes with the brace on, or the patient may need to wear special footwear. Patients with concerns about how to manage the brace in daily life can ask the doctor for advice and assistance. It may be possible to adjust the plans for a brace to accommodate patient needs.
When a patient develops drop foot, it is important to find out why. It can be a sign of a neurological problem or injury to the spinal cord. A doctor can evaluate the patient to find out more about the issue and develop a treatment plan, like decompressing the spine to relieve pressure on the spinal nerves. It can take time to determine the cause of the problem and provide treatment, and patients may need time in treatment before they start seeing results. A drop foot brace can provide support until the patient recovers functionality.
It is important to have an orthopedic doctor or foot and ankle surgeon fit a drop foot brace. If the brace does not fit properly, it can put stress on the foot and may exacerbate the injury. A doctor will determine the best brace for a patient, make adjustments to assure a proper fit, and have the patient walk around in the office to check for any gait abnormalities. The patient also needs to attend followups to check on the progress of healing and make sure the drop foot brace still meets the need.