The following hacks for AFOs (ankle foot orthosis) and orthotics are based on my opinion and experience as a longtime wearer. I am not a doctor, physical therapist, orthotist, or a rule follower. Everything I recommend (including all of the shoes for AFOs & orthotics in other posts), work for me, or my daughter, and our orthosis and abilities. So please take my recommendations as just that, recommendations. In other words, I’m just trying to help people, so please don’t sue me! Oh and there are a few affiliate links used in this post that pay a small commission (wouldn’t cover a Starbuck’s latte) if used.
7 HACKS FOR AFOS & ORTHOTICS
I have a love/hate relationship with my leg braces. On the one hand, they help me walk and balance (not minor things) and allow me to be independent, explore the world, and have an awesome life. But, they can also be super annoying, stifling, and controlling. So controlling in fact, that I’m now completely dependent on and lost without them. If you read my Tips About Neuropathy post, then you know that I take an extra set of braces and straps with me on vacation in case they break (and they have) because I am unable to walk in shoes without them.
Being a full-time leg brace wearer can be inconvenient and frustrating at times, but I’m grateful for them as I would not be able to do all that I can do without their help. So when it comes to AFOs, the good definitely outweighs the bad, especially when you know hacks to make them more tolerable. What follows are 7 tips for wearing orthotics and AFOs to put your best foot forward.
1. HOW TO STOP ORTHOTICS FROM SQUEAKING
I don’t know about you, but the last thing I want to do is draw additional attention to my feet. When my daughter got her first set of custom orthotics a few years ago, we noticed a squeaking sound as she walked. This would make almost anyone self-conscious, especially a teenager. So, we found a solution.
The squeaking sound is typically caused by friction when the orthotic rubs against the inside of a shoe. There are several easy hacks to stop an orthotic from squeaking. One quick fix is to apply a thin layer of Vaseline under the insole so that the shoe and orthotic rub together more smoothly. You can also put a dryer sheet (I’m a lavender girl) inside your shoe and underneath your orthotics. This creates a barrier and stops the squeak. Plus, it helps stop orthotics from smelling if that is a problem you have encountered.
2. WHEN YOUR BRACES OR ORTHOTICS RUB AGAINST YOUR SKIN
First, it should go without saying, your leg braces and/or orthotics should not cause you pain. If they do, take them back to your orthotist ASAP. There are many adjustments that a professional with the right equipment can make. If you’re the never return anything, suffer in silence kinda person, it’s time to get over it and advocate for yourself.
But sometimes, even after getting them padded and adjusted, your orthosis rub and chafe your skin. When you first notice rubbing, one easy solution is to use a blister balm like this one. You can also use this amazing product I recently discovered called Dr. Jill’s Gels. You can apply these removable gel sticky pads to your foot or, you can actually stick them directly on your AFO like I did when I noticed I was getting repeated callouses and corns under the ball of my foot. The gel pads are like magic and actually stay put. One of them has been on my AFO for a month already. (I should seriously buy stock in the company). They also make amazing gel tubing for problem toes.
3. WHEN YOU WANT TO GO SOCKLESS
This is the hack I’ve talked about many times, most recently in How To Wear Sandals With Orthotics or AFOs. The gist of it is this; If you wear any kind of braces and want to go sock-less, you first need to cover the footplates so you’re not walking directly on the brace material. Note for plastic AFO wearers: this involves getting or making covers that line the entire brace like a sock. This is discussed in greater detail here.
If you wear carbon fiber braces, you can either ask your orthotist to cover the footplate, or you can DIY it like I did. To cover my footplates (shown in the photo above), I used a tiny bit of waterproof adhesive called ShoeGoo to attach a thin foam insole to the AFO footplates. The foam gives me enough cushion (without adding bulk) so that I can comfortably wear sandals all summer long.
4. WHEN YOU CAN’T KEEP YOUR SHOES ON
When it’s hard to keep your shoes on, it’s typically because your brace or orthotic requires more depth than your shoe provides. In many cases, this can be easily remedied by simply removing the padded insole. If that doesn’t work, or the insole cannot be removed, there are a few more tricks you can try.
I found these strappy heel grips worked to keep the worn down straps on my favorite platform leather Tevas from slipping off my heel allowing my shoes to fall off. The sticky straps made a huge difference! You can get them to cover an entire heel or in thin strip form, like the ones I used for my backstrap sandals.
5. WHEN YOUR LEG BRACE STRAPS WON’T STAY IN PLACE
After using many different types and brands of AFOs over the years, I find it surprising that none of the manufacturers provide direct customer access to strapping material and tabs to keep the straps from hanging. I’m a really active person; why should I have to go through a medical provider to replace worn out velcro straps every month? Well it took me a few years, but I no longer do.
Instead of paying for new sets of straps all the time (not cheap btw), I pay my orthotist’s office their cost to buy an entire roll of the same strapping material that’s used. This is a win-win since I’m pretty sure they’re happy not to have me calling and coming in all the time. Now when my straps start getting thin and worn down looking, I just cut a new set myself at home. FYI, those same rolls are not sold online…believe me, I’ve looked.
But I did find this material on Amazon that I use to hack tabs to keep the straps together and secure. Also, since I have fine motor/hand problems, the tabs make it easier to grab and open the straps to put them on. To make a tab, I cut the material into two identical shapes, like the ones above. I then glue them together so that it’s thick enough to grab (I have no pincher grip) and so that one side is soft (loop material) and the other is rough (hook material) and can attach to the soft straps. I then put a tab on the end of each strap so that I can adjust it and accommodate for swelling. Ta Da!
6. WHEN YOUR SHOE IS TOO BIG
Many of our Perfectly Imperfect Facebook and Instagram followers wear just one custom orthotic or AFO and have shared with me their challenges. In response to questions about where to buy shoes in two different sizes, I published a post called Odd Shoe Out. But if you want to wear the same size shoes with an orthosis, you can fill up the shoe without the brace with a shoe filler like these:
7. WHEN NO SHOES (EVEN THE ONE’S ON TREND-ABLE.COM) FIT
Perhaps you’ve read all my posts about shoes for AFOs and orthotics and ordered 20 + pairs but none of them fit. You feel sad, frustrated, and defeated…ready to give up and surrender to a life in bulky, orthopedic sneakers. … Ok, maybe that was a bit dramatic…but, PLEASE DON’T GIVE UP!
As the saying on one of our Trend-Able t-shirts reads, “When things Don’t Go Right, Go Left.” Seriously, where there’s a will there’s a way! You could buy a pair of inexpensive wide width shoes and take them to your local cobbler to be hacked. A good shoe cobbler can cut out the shoe tongue and add extended velcro. You can have the shoe completely opened up and turned into a Mary Jane style by adding an elasticized strap. There are options…
I hope these hacks will help you to better EmBRACE your braces or orthotics. BTW, if you are new to AFOs or considering getting your first pair, you might want to download our Afo Fashion Guide and join our Perfectly Imperfect Tribe.
Do you have any hacks for AFOs or orthotics? Please share with us all in the comments section below. I can’t wait to hear from you.