BRACE OF THE DAY: RICHIE BRACE (BRAND NAME)/ARTICULATED AFO (GENERIC)
In 1996, a sports podiatrist, Doug Richie, named a foot brace after himself. We’ll forgive him for this narcissism because his product has helped many people with pained lower extremities. The Richie Brace, also known as an ankle-foot orthosis (AFO, not to be confused with UFO, though sometimes resembling the latter more than the former), is a custom-fit brace comprised of a plastic footbed, lateral plastic stays, hinges that allow front-to-back and back-to-front motion, and Velcro straps that keep the brace in place. Functionally, the brace (which I will refer to as an “AFO” since I went the generic route) limits motion of the subtalar joint (primarily side to side) while allowing full motion of the ankle joint (flex and point).
Pros: Reduced pain in subtalar joint because it is not moving. Unrestricted motion of ankle joint allows for a normal gait, which bodes well for other parts of the musculoskeletal system. Fits into a regular athletic shoe, saving the owner money and the annoyance of buying bulky, sometimes unsightly ortho shoes. Looks athletic. Velcro straps allow for some adjustment. People will frequently ask wearer if she was in a skiing accident.
Cons: Can be difficult to fit. Plastic sole and stays can rub and cause skin irritation or mild bone bruising. Velcro sticks to, and can ruin, some types of pants (yes, I just went there).
My Experience: After three failed attempts at customizing an AFO that would fit my foot, my orthotist and his manufacturers have created a product that fits well and allows me to walk further than with regular orthotics. I’m still in the honeymoon phase of the brace, and thus hesitant to give the brace a resounding “yes,” but all signs point towards a step in the right direction!
Overall Impression: Less limiting, and therefore more versatile, than the Arizona brace. The articulated AFO does have some drawbacks, but they are minor compared to the problems with the Arizona brace.
Wearer tends to forget about all of the drawbacks (except for the bone bruising) when she realizes her mobility has increased at least 50% during brace use. Gold star, articulated AFO. And props to you, Dr. Richie.