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How Long Do You Actually Need to Wear an AFO Brace?

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How long do you need to wear an AFO brace?

If you’re wondering the same thing, we’ve got you covered!

Below, we’ll go over all the details, including the ideal daily AFO-wearing schedule, when to take it off, and more.

Just keep on reading.

Related: What is the Best Brace for Foot Drop?

How Long Do You Need to Wear an AFO Brace?

An ankle-foot orthosis corrects lower limb instabilities caused by neurological or orthopedic problems, such as foot drop, muscle weakness, stroke, palsy, to name a few.

Some of these conditions can’t be completely cured, but they can get better with physical therapy. Others resolve in a couple of weeks/months with proper treatment.

man putting a black AFO on his feet

So, how long do you need to wear an AFO brace?

While we can advise you what is the best brace for foot drop, we can’t determine how long you should wear one.

Depending on the underlying condition, you may have to wear a custom-made AFO brace for weeks, months, even years. Again, you should consult with your orthopedist.

In the meantime, we’re going to talk about how long you should keep your AFO during the day and when to replace it.

Also check: How to Fit an AFO Brace

Daily Wear Schedule for AFO Braces

While AFOs are great for providing stability when walking, it’s natural to experience discomfort during the first few days.

That’s why specialists recommend you stick to a wearing schedule so that your body, skin, and muscles can get used to the brace:

  • During the first day, wear the AFO for a short period of time, up to two hours. Check for skin irritation and skin breakdowns after you remove the AFO.
  • On the second day, wear the AFO for up to two-four hours.
  • Slowly increase the duration during the next couple of days.
  • Keep increasing the duration until you reach the recommended amount by your doctor by day five.

In general, it can take up to a week before you can wear the foot drop braces full time with minimal or no discomfort.

Remember to put on a cotton sock to reduce skin irritation and wear a proper shoe to keep the AFO in place.

Children and AFO Braces

a baby wearing an AFO brace: how long do you need to wear an AFO brace?

If your child has to wear an ankle brace, the break-in schedule should be longer to ensure the child’s comfort.

Orthologix recommends wearing AFO:

  • three hours total the first week (one hour on, three times)
  • six hours total the second week (2 hours on, three times a day)
  • eight hours total the third week (4 hours on, twice a day)

However, consult with your doctor if your child finds the AFO device uncomfortable. Don’t dry to adjust the medical brace yourself.

You can watch this video to see how to put on a child’s AFO brace.

How Long Can I Wear My AFO Brace Before I Have to Replace It?

As specialists explain, “the Reasonable Useful Lifetime is 5 years for any lower extremity brace or prosthesis.”

If you go by that rule, you can replace your AFO every five years. And Medicare covers ankle-foot orthosis if the AFO meets certain criteria.

However, children will likely outgrow their AFO in about six to 12 months. You also might need a replacement sooner if your body weight changes drastically.

But, a custom-built brace is made to last, so you should be able to wear yours for a couple of years before you have to replace it.

When to Take Off Your AFO Brace?

staff showing how to put on an AFO brace correctly

How does an AFO brace help foot drop? It prevents toes from dragging, decreases the risk of stumbling/tripping, and keeps the ankle in proper alignment.

So, don’t stop wearing your AFO brace cold turkey, even if you think you’re getting better. You’d be at risk of falling/tripping while performing your daily activities.

However, in some cases, you should take off your AFO brace and/or contact your doctor as soon as possible.

#1 Skin Discoloration

It’s normal to observe red marks after removing your AFO and its straps, especially during the first few weeks. However, these should disappear after 30 minutes.

Any persistent redness or skin discoloration requires special attention. Stop wearing your AFO and contact your orthopedist for advice immediately.

#2 Blisters/Sores

Always inspect your skin for blisters and sores when removing your AFO. If you find any, your foot isn’t in the correct position and moves within the foot drop brace.

In these cases, talk to your doctor about how to put on an AFO brace correctly and allow your skin to heal before you resume the wearing schedule.

Avoid any socks with irritating edges and get the right shoe size to ensure a snug fit and reduce the risk of skin breakdowns.

#3 Persistent Pain

If wearing your AFO becomes too uncomfortable or painful, you should take it off and talk to your doctor as soon as possible.

In some cases, an AFO causes medial malleolar pain (the bump on your ankle’s inner side) and needs adjustments to relieve the discomfort.

#4 The Brace Feels Loose/Too Tight

If you gain/lose weight, your AFO can become too tight or too loose. In both cases, you’ll need to take it off for re-alignment.

While you can adjust some braces for foot drop by yourself, you shouldn’t do it without consulting a specialist. A tight/loose drop foot brace can do more harm than good.

#5 Maintenance

Since you have to wear an AFO for a prolonged period of time each day, you need to clean it at least weekly to prevent bacterial build-up and nasty smells.

Depending on your AFO model/type, you can handwash it with water or clean it with a damp towel. Once it’s dry, you can put it on again.

But don’t soak the AFO in water if it has metal parts and avoid any strong chemicals that can damage the plastic/leather construction.

FAQS

Is It OK to Wear an Ankle Brace All Day?

staff showing how to put on an AFO brace correctly

Yes, you can wear your AFO device all day if recommended by your orthopedist. However, ensure you give your body plenty of time to get used to it.

Should You Sleep with an Ankle Brace on?

You shouldn’t sleep with an ankle brace or AFO device unless your orthopedist recommends it. No matter how comfortable the AFO is, it’s going to irritate your skin if you keep it overnight. 

Can You Drive with an AFO Brace?

In general, it’s not safe to drive a car with a foot brace or a knee brace. But depending on your type of AFO, you can drive a vehicle if your orthopedist gives you the green light. Also, keep in mind that it might be against the law to drive with an AFO in some countries, so check the legislation. 

Can You Wear AFO Without Shoes? 

You shouldn’t wear your AFO without shoes because it’s slippery and increases your chances of falling. Choose a size larger than your regular to accommodate the AFO, and go for casual shoes with laces or straps for a snug fit.  

What Do You Wear Under AFO?

As specialists say, “an AFO should not come in direct contact with the skin.”
You should wear a sock or a tight with no irritating ridges under the AFO and inspect your skin for inflammation every day.

Conclusion

Ankle-foot orthoses stabilize your ankle, ensure ease of movement, and prevent tripping/falling. They can be invaluable for adults, seniors, and children alike. 

As one study concluded, AFOs “improved lower extremity coordination in the elderly participants without limiting their ability to perform a standard activity.”

So, wear your AFO devices as much as your orthopedist recommends, and don’t forget about physical therapy and exercises! They’re important for getting back to your feet. 

References:

  • “A Guide to Your Ankle Foot Orthosis (AFO) Orthotic Services.” n.d. https://www.acecic.co.uk/media/1739/a-guide-to-your-ankle-foot-orthosis.pdf.
  • “How to Address and Prevent Complications with AFOs.” 2021. HMP Global Learning Network. 2021. https://www.hmpgloballearningnetwork.com/site/podiatry/how-to-address-and-prevent-complications-with-afos.
  • Johanna F.M. Geboers, Maarten R Drost, Frank Spaans, and Henk A M Seelen. 2002. “Immediate and Long-Term Effects of Ankle-Foot Orthosis on Muscle Activity during Walking: A Randomized…” ResearchGate. WB Saunders. March 2002. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/11527757_Immediate_and_long-term_effects_of_ankle-foot_orthosis_on_muscle_activity_during_walking_A_randomized_study_of_patients_with_unilateral_foot_drop.
  • “SCHEDULED WEARING INSTRUCTIONS for AFO’S.” n.d. http://www.orthologix.com/pdfs/afo-wearing-instructions.pdf.
  • Watson, Stephanie. 2017. “What Is Plantar Flexion and Why Is It Important?” Healthline. Healthline Media. September 27, 2017. https://www.healthline.com/health/plantar-flexion.

What do you think about this topic? How long do you need to wear an AFO brace, and what’s your experience with it? Share your thoughts in the comment section. 

About GrigorinaLoa

Grigorina discovered that writing is her vocation early in her school years. Since then, she's taken part in several literary contests. For the past three years, she's also been an ELS teacher, pouring her heart into showing children and adults how important English is for their future. She has a Bachelor's degree in Applied Linguistics, an ESL Teacher's degree, and a Master's degree in Accounting. Follow her on FACEBOOK AND INSTAGRAM

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