Uses of Orthotics

If you are having difficulty with movements due to an injury or an illness, your physical therapist (PT) may fit you with an orthotic to help align your feet, legs, spine, or another area of your body properly. So what exactly is an orthotic? An orthotic is a device used to support, align, prevent, or correct deformities to help you move and function better. There are several different types of orthotics that your physical therapist may use.

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Examples of orthotics that your PT may prescribe include:

  • Ankle Foot Orthosis (AFO): This is a device that encloses the ankle and foot and does not extend above the knee. It is commonly used for foot drop, when weakness of the anterior tibialis muscle prevents you from lifting your foot and toes up off the floor.
  • Cervical brace: This rigid plastic device encircles the neck and supports the chin and the back of the head.
  • Dynamic splint: This orthotic surrounds a joint to support it and moves to align the joint while stretching a specific part of it. For example, if you are experiencing elbow tightness after an arm fracture, your PT may prescribe a dynamic splint to help stretch your arm out while supporting it. The splint provides a low-load, long-duration stretch.
  • Knee Ankle Foot Orthosis (KAFO): This orthotic for the lower limb extends from above the knee to the ankle and foot.
  • Lumbosacral Orthosis (LSO): This spinal orthotic encircles the body in the lumbosacral region. It is often used after spinal surgery or to treat low back pain from spinal stenosis.

The orthotic device that you are prescribed would depend on your injury or medical condition, how it has affected your movements, and your level of recovery. You might use one type of orthotic for a while until you begin to improve, and then your PT may then recommend another device or might continue your therapy without an orthotic,

Shoe Orthotics

One of the most common areas for orthotics is in the shoes. For example, it's common for people who have flat feet to use orthotics. Flat feet refers to feet that are flat and have a loss of their medial arch.

If you are flat-footed, your lower leg may internally rotate inwards, leading to stress and strain on your knees.

This can lead to several problems, including:

If you are flat-footed, shoe inserts or orthotics in your shoes help to gently lift up your foot's arch, placing your foot and lower leg in an optimal position. Your PT can assess your foot position and determine if you should use orthotics for your shoes.

Common Reasons for Using Orthotics

You might be prescribed an orthotic if you have a medical condition or after certain types of surgery.

People who have severe scoliosis (a type of spine curve), for example, may need to wear an orthotic to prevent the spine from curving further.

And after ACL reconstruction, you may be required to wear a knee brace as an orthotic to help keep everything in the right place while you are healing. While a brace can help decrease your pain, be sure you understand exactly how to use it properly.

One of the most common reasons for discontinuing a knee brace is a poor fit. Your physical therapist can show you how to properly wear your knee brace after surgery and ensure that it is not too tight or too loose.

A Word From Verywell

If you are having pain or a limitation of your mobility, your doctor or physical therapist may use an orthotic to help correct your condition. Make sure it's comfortable and that you know how to use it so you can heal properly and as fast as possible.

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Pourhosseingholi E, Farahmand B, Bagheri A, et al. Efficacy of different techniques of AFO construction for hemiplegia patients: A systematic reviewMed J Islam Repub Iran. Jun 3, 2019;33:50. Published . doi:10.34171/mjiri.33.50

  2. Holla M, Huisman JM, Verdonschot N, et al. The ability of external immobilizers to restrict movement of the cervical spine: a systematic reviewEur Spine J. 2016;25(7):2023-2036. doi:10.1007/s00586-016-4379-6

  3. American Podiatric Medical Association. Prescription Custom Orthotics and Shoe Inserts.

  4. Michaudet C, Edenfield KM, Nicolette GW, et al. Foot and ankle conditions: pes planusFP Essent. 2018;465:18-23.

By Laura Inverarity, DO
 Laura Inverarity, PT, DO, is a current board-certified anesthesiologist and former physical therapist.