7 hacks for orthotics & afos

Disclaimer:

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

7 hacks for orthotics & afos

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

7 hacks for orthotics & afos

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.

I’m also a big fan of all of Dr. Scholl’s bandages (I should seriously buy stock in the company).

3. WHEN YOU WANT TO GO SOCKLESS  

7 hacks for orthotics & afos

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

7 hacks for orthotics & afos

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

7 hacks for orthotics & afos

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

7 hacks for orthotics & afos

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

7 hacks for orthotics & afos

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…

7 hacks for orthotics & afos

Conclusion:

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.

 

Xoxo

Lainie

35 Comments

  1. I can’t believe how lucky I feel to have found your website, I just got Afos & I didn’t know any of these things, I am crying I am so happy. Thank you ! Thank you! I will be a follower for sure,

    • Lisa, your comment made my morning and really is why this full time “job” is so rewarding. Thank you for writing & for following, feel free to reach out anytime. 😀Lainie

  2. Can I add a few hacks that have worked for me?
    #1 I wear the carbon fiber type afo. The brace goes down the back of my leg then wraps around my foot at the ankle. At the point where the brace meets the back of my sneaker( where the sneaker is made of fabric) used to wear through to the foam and shred due to the constant friction from the brace. Now I apply FRAY CHECK to the area and that stops the fabric from fraying. You can purchase FRAY CHECK in any fabric store such as Joann’s.
    #2 My braces used to squeak where the brace rubs against the shoe itself, not the sole part. I apply a piece of sticky back VELCRO to the brace using only the hook side (not the fuzzy side) of the velcro at the point of friction. No more squeak.

  3. Hi Lanie,
    Great tips! I have two daughters who wear AFOs due to CMT and they wear the Helios. Although they help tremendously, yours look completely different and seem a bit more summer friendly with outfits. Something you have to think about with 18 year olds. Could you tell me the name of your braces and how well they work for you?

    Thanks
    Shannon

    • Hi Shannon,

      Of course! I interchange between two kinds that work for me. The blue ones you see in my posts are the Allard Blue Rockers. I wear an off the shelf in those. The other pair is a custom carbon fiber by Kinetic Research (The Noodle). If you go with those, let them know you saw the ones they made for me.

  4. Lanie I have the custom plastic AFOs with 2 different size feet, actually an 8.5 & 10.5! In order to by 1 pair of shoes my AFOs were extended and the mind doesn’t realize that made up difference. A great CMT mind game for once that actually saves $ alas if only better shoe options for the 6E width.

    Thank YOU for your site/blog. 💞

  5. Fantastic post, and so well-researched, thank you!! I need to make the leap to Allard. Lainie, you are a constant source of good mojo for this neurotic CMT-er! Julie

  6. Thank you so much, Lainie! This is such great real practical info. I definitely need some more inspiration this summer season. The sandals I bought aren’t working so well for me, so I am going to dive back in to look for new Teva-style (adjustable straps). I’m definitely trying the minipad for squeaks since my new Hokas are super noisy! Such a great community, sharing all these ideas. xo

  7. Lainie,
    You have hit another home run! Great Post! I just ordered the shoe goo and the inner sole! Thanks for that1. I was about to call the orthotist do do this for me. You save me a trip and some $$.
    Question about the carbon fiber AFOs. Mine are new to me since the winter. I have notices that the back of the foot plate seems to be more elongated than the other. Think I could file this down? I realize you aren’t an orthotist but…
    Thanks

    • Hi Cyndi,

      Thank you once again for being my Trend-Able rock! I know if no one else reads, I can count on you 😂. Good question, I have had my afos cut & re-sized many times by orthotists..I would hate for your diy filing to leave jagged edges..unless of course you have experience with this? Take it to him/her 💜💜

  8. This is all well & good, but what if your feet are so disfigured the AFOs rub all the time & im always getting sores?!? They have not been able in the yr that I’ve had them to get them so I can walk without more discomfort from the braces than from walking without them, however , I cannot walk without them because my feet are so disfigured! Also I have yet to find a sandal that can fit over my AFOs. If you have some ideas I’d be most happy to hear them!!!! Thank you!!!

    • Hi Debra,

      I do not have the same issue but I understand & feel your pain (not literally of course). They do make many different types of moleskin toe wraps and bandages for sore spots that help a lot of people. Your afo should not hurt you even with your “disfigured feet”. The orthotist shoukd pad & cut out areas that hurt as much as they can. In terms of sandals, some of the ones on my Post come in EEE width with adjustable velcro. If those don’t fit, than a good foot peddler can add strap extenders, extra velcro etc. I hope this helps. 😀

    • My feet are not disfigured, but I think I have struggled much the same. My orthotist is great and very patient. We tried adjusting my orthotics and tried making new ones…nothing worked. Finally, kind of by mistake, we found that ankle braces instead of orthotics is the answer for me. Nothing molded for my feet ever fit, they always caused foot problems and blisters. The braces seem to make my feet happy and gives me the support I need.

  9. Great post Lainie! I also wear noodles by Kinetics but with custom orthotics which makes finding shoes deep enough even more challenging. When I found black sandals I could wear, my heel kept slipping out the back so I cut out a piece of thin black foam and glued it to the back of the heel cup to extend it. Problem solved!

    • Hi Linda,

      Thanks for reading😀 I know others who wear orthotics with their Afos & experience the same challenge. I wonder if shoes with removable footbeds (like Naot) work for you ? The foam hack is smart…It’s your own version of the strappy heel grips from the Post. 💜

  10. Hi Lanie,
    Orthotist here, thanking you for such an insightful post! My patient sent me a link to your site and I love it. So many of my patients want to wear normal shoes with their braces and It’s nice to know there’s a place I can send them for good information on troubleshooting. There’s only so much wisdom you can impart in a visit, and often the longtime users are more knowledgeable than I am! I’m a big fan of getting cobblers to adjust shoes, including adding zippers to boots and adjusting or adding velcro straps. There are a few shoe companies who make sandals with completely removable insoles, including Naot and Naturalizer. These can allow a brace user to sink the brace down inside the sandal and hold it in place, with a nice insole on top for carbon brace users. Softsoap also works pretty well for squeaking. Thanks again for the post and I’ll be sharing your site with my patients in the future!

    • Hi Marina,

      You are the very first medical professional to take the time to read & comment here 👍🙌. Please give that patient a big thank you for letting you know about the website. Your suggestions are right on….I recommend a ton of Naot & Naturalizer styles with removable footbeds in Posts and I also love the Softsoap hack! Thank you so much ! Your patients are lucky to have an Orthotist who clearly cares.

  11. Thanks for all the ideas. This is my first summer with AFO’s, so sandals are a new challenge. I already tried the dryer sheet hack for squeaky shoes today. Worked great!

    • Hi Mary Jo,

      Thanks for commenting! How cool that you put the heck into practice today😀. Definitely check out the sandals for afos post & feel free to reach out anytime 😀

  12. Thank you, thank you, thank you for posting shoe hacks!! I struggled to figure out how you are able to wear your Tevas without feeling like you are going to fall or be standing on metal

  13. I wear plastic AFOs. I always wear a pair of long socks underneathe my AFO and fold the top of the sock over the strap bit. It gives me a little more support and comfort. I then wear a normal sock over the AFO. For the most part no one knows I am wearing them. Great in winter by the way, not so great in summer!

    • Hi Brian,

      Thanks for commenting!We do not get that many male Afo wearers so I appreciate you reading. Have you tried the AFO liners in the summer with your plastic afos?

  14. Lainie, I sent you a comment about not understanding how to use my brace with the 16 Sandals you mention . You answered me..I followed your directions and had great luck. I ordered the soft sandal, but didn’t get wide as I have a narrow foot, I ordered glue, blister tape, soft soles.. I tried my brace in shoe everything works, I’m so excited. Thank you so much for taking the time to spell it all out for me. You are a sweetheart! Also I learned a new word from your site…hack I had no clue, looked it up. Can’t wait to try in my 70+ Marjongg friends!❤️

    • Sandra,

      THIS WAS THE BEST email to wake up to today. I’m sooo glad you are able to wear those shoes and love that you learned a new word to boot! Your Maj girls will love it! I’m happy I was helpful & appreciate you telling me as this is why I’m doing this 😀😀😀😀👏👏🙌🙌🙌

  15. I love the hacks! My teen son and adult son are in plastic AFOs and they are bulky. They cover all but the top of their feet. The toes are “free” other than the support going under them but the whole ankle bone is wrapped to keep them from rolling from deformity. They go up to almost the knee. They allow my boys to walk so I am thankful. I also live in AK and resources are limited. I went to both shoe sites mentioned in comments. They are for women or they don’t carry WIDE shoes LOL. Do you have any idea where I can get super wide shoes and sandals for men? This is our third year wearing AFOs and have always bought boots that are three sizes too big to get their feet/brace into them.

  16. I will be getting an AFO brace soon. I have been looking on-line for someone who makes anything other than black, white or gray liners. Flowers would be nice, solid colors would be good also. I haven’t been able to find anything and I don’t sew, so I can’t make my own.

  17. KT Tape can be a great help for specific areas where your AFOs rub. For some reason I occasionally find my AFOs rub one spot on my shin or my heels are sensitive. KT tape is fantastic. It comes in a variety of colors, you custom cut it to the size/shape you need, and it stays in place really well.

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