Our bodies don’t always grow as they should. This can become painful or debilitating, depending on how severe the issue is. And whether these deformities happen at birth, develop as we age, or are the result of an injury, there are steps that can be taken to mitigate the negative effects.
The fact that these issues don’t often have a definite cause can lead people to think there isn’t a cure. Maybe you’ve heard someone mention their back starts to hurt as the day goes on. Or maybe someone’s leg hurts the more they walk. There are plenty of examples of people accepting their soreness and pain because they don’t believe there is a way out of it.
But in many of these cases, there is.
Orthotics have been helping people for a very long time. The methods and instruments have been refined over the years and can be quite effective for helping people with issues they’ve come to accept as part of their lives.
But what exactly is orthotics? And how does it work?
What Are Orthotics?
In short, orthotics is a specialized branch of medicine that makes use of orthotic devices. There are numerous issues it is used to treat (which we’ll get into later). An orthotic device is an instrument with the goal of straightening or correcting various problems that can occur in a person’s muscular or skeletal system.
Orthotic devices most commonly take the form of a splint, cast, or brace. They are worn over and around the problem area with the goal of directing the muscle or bone into a more natural and correct form.
This is frequently used to relieve a patient’s pain and help them walk, stand, or move in a more natural and comfortable manner.
History of Orthotics
The first orthopedic device was used by a French surgeon named Ambroise Paré in the 1500’s. He made use of metal devices to treat scoliosis, as well as inventing a special device to treat those born with what was known as a “club foot.”
The word “orthopaedics” was first used in 1741 by Nicolas Andry, a French doctor. It was used in reference to children suffering from rickets. The word breaks down to the Greek words orthos (straight) and paidi (child). Andry wrote a book titled “Orthopédie” in which he explored human anatomy along with skeletal structures. He purported various methods that could be used to correct deformations.
This image was included in Orthopédie to represent the basic idea behind treatment of children with deformities. It has continued to be used as a symbol for orthopedics.
Jean-Andre Venel, a Swiss doctor, pushed orthotic devices even further. He specialized in treating childhood deformations and set up the first orthopedic clinic in 1780 to treat children with deformations in their skeletons. This institute was used as a model for others throughout Europe.
The first plaster cast to be used to immobilize broken bones was invented in 1852 by a Dutch Army surgeon named Antonius Mathijsen.
A Welsh surgeon named Hugh Owen Thomas was born in 1834. He would come to be known as the “Father of Orthopedics.” He created a number of innovative instruments such as the “Thomas splint,” which protected against infections as it stabilized the femur. The “Thomas collar” is another famous invention used for treating symptoms of tuberculosis. And the “Thomas test” is used to diagnose hip joint deformities. His treatments were painful but very effective—sometimes breaking a bone with a special key and setting it back in the exact proper position for a full recovery.
Thomas’ nephew used his splints in World War I, which decreased the mortality rate of femur breaks from 87% to 8%.
World Wars I and II, along with the polio epidemic, would spur an increase in orthotic development. Lower limb orthotics became patented. Studies became more frequent. The instruments and devices used continued to be improved right up to what we have available today.
What Do Orthotics Treat?
There are many different types of orthotics that treat many different kinds of ailments. The types of treatments are separated into a few different classifications—upper extremity orthotics, lower extremity orthotics, spinal orthotics, and pediatric orthotics (we’ll dig more into these a little further down).
But even with the different sections of orthotics, there are similar conditions that are treated. For instance, one of the major uses of orthotics is to brace weak, underdeveloped, damaged, or deformed appendages.
Diseases like multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, spina bifida, and other genetic disorders can leave a patient with deformed or otherwise compromised limbs. These weak points can be supported with orthotics too, depending on the case, support and make them more useful or aid in their recovery.
Orthotics can be used to stabilize joints after an injury or operation. Ensuring proper alignment helps these injuries heal while also reducing pain.
Other deformities such as foot drop are frequently treated with orthotics to give the patient more natural movement through the use of braces or even electrical stimulation.
Reducing pain, assisting in recovery, and correcting deformities are all general areas that orthotics are frequently used to treat.
How Effective Are Orthotics?
Orthotics have been around, as we’ve seen, for a very long time. Centuries of studies, innovations, and advancements have meant that these devices have become more effective throughout the years.
On a very small scale, this can be seen in the advantages of shoe inserts. Many people that work on their feet have found that buying a simple over-the-counter shoe insert can reduce back pain, leg pain, and fatigue.
These benefits extend to those wearing orthotics for more severe issues, as well. Pediatric orthotics, for instance, are particularly effective because our bodies are much more malleable when we are young.
One such device is the cranial remodeling helmet. Particularly difficult births can leave an infant’s head with an unnatural shape. However, the bones in an infant’s skull aren’t fully fused together when they’re born. This means they are pliable. The cranial remodeling helmet simply holds the shape in which a skull should form. An infant wears the helmet and their bones move into the proper positions.
This is one such example of how orthotics are effective, but there are countless others.
Are you in pain? Visit Victory Orthotics & Prosthetics to see how orthotics can make your life better.
Why Does It Work?
The reason orthotics are so effective is also the reason it is easy to understand—our skeletal and muscular systems have proper positions in which they operate best. Orthotics simply move these systems to where they should be.
Unaligned systems don’t operate smoothly and efficiently. This is just as true for simple mechanical items as it is for our bodies. Think of driving down the road when the alignment of the wheels on your car is off. You can feel the steering wheel shaking because of the difference between the points of contact. These points need to be moved into the proper position to fix the problem.
Many issues that result in pain and discomfort in our bodies work in much the same way.
Orthotics also aid in the process of healing. Stability and proper alignment can be crucial to the healing of certain injuries. A bone won’t have the opportunity to fuse itself back together if the fractured areas aren’t lined up and near each other.
Types of Orthotics
Pediatric orthotics is a branch of orthotics that focuses on increasing a child’s mobility and comfort through the use of splints, braces, and other devices.
There are numerous genetic conditions, growth problems, or injuries that can lead to the use of pediatric orthotic devices.
The most common type of device is the pediatric ankle-foot-orthoses (AFO). This device is used to solidify the motion of the patient’s ankle and foot. It helps control deformities, support the joint in case of weakness, while also applying corrective forces in the case of any issues related to the ankle and foot.
Other possible uses include scoliosis bracing, cranial remodeling helmets, and more.
These devices aid and support the arm, wrist, and hand of the patient. They +can be used for numerous varied circumstances. Upper extremity orthotics are most commonly used for stability of weak joints, muscles, and bones, or immobilization of injured areas in order to give them a chance to heal.
There are three main areas related to upper extremity orthotics:
- Soft supports: These braces are constructed with soft materials such as fabric, canvas, or neoprene. They can be reinforced with pieces of metal or plastic for additional support.
- Positional supports: These help position the shoulder, elbow, arm, or wrist for proper alignment. They can also control the range of motion for the purposes of physical
- Fracture orthoses: In the case of a fracture, these devices can be used to reduce unwanted motion and allow the injury time to heal.
Devices used for lower extremity orthotics treat conditions for the hip, leg, knee, ankle, and foot. These splints, braces, and supports can be used independently or in combination with other devices to provide either stability for weakened areas, or immobilization for injured areas.
Shoe inserts are the most widely-known devices used for lower extremity orthotics, but there are many more beyond what can be slipped into your shoe. Knee supports and braces are frequently used by those involved in sports, but many people experiencing pain below the waist can make use of lower extremity orthotics.
These braces are commonly worn after surgery or to correct symptoms of scoliosis. However, spinal orthotics can also be used to assist a patient suffering from a back injury. They provide support for those in recovery, and help correctly align the spine in cases of scoliosis.
Where To Get Help
Are you in pain? Do you think orthotics can help improve your quality of life? Visiting a licensed orthotist will give you all the information you need regarding your options and what you can expect from treatment. Those in and around Knoxville, TN and Johnson City, TN have the opportunity to visit the professionals at Victory Orthotics & Prosthetics.
Victory Orthotics & Prosthetics has almost two decades of experience. Since then, we have expanded our practice to multiple cities in and around the Knoxville, TN area and have changed the lives of countless people.
Visit Victory Orthotics & Prosthetics to learn how we can help you today!