You’re in pain and agony and experiencing discomfort in your lower extremities. This could be from a broken bone, arthritic joints, diabetes or other neuromuscular issues. And so you make a trip to your doctor. However, a quick scribble of the pen for some prescription medication and physical therapy end up not being enough to completely relieve the aches, swelling or instability you may be feeling. In this case, you’re advised to see an orthotist about being fitted for a special brace also known as an orthosis. 

What Is an Orthotist?

Another excellent question! An orthotist is a state-licensed and board-certified medical professional that specializes in the evaluation, biomechanical design, custom fit and follow-up of patients requiring orthopedic bracing. This form of treatment compliments a patients’ therapeutic rehabilitation needs in a safe and productive manner.  

The process begins with a clinical assessment in which the affected area (leg, knee, ankle, foot, elbow or all of the above) is examined based off a physicians’ prescription. From there, the orthotist will provide recommendations for an orthopedic brace that’s designed, customized and fitted to compliment the patient and their needs, and most importantly, restore functionality to the impacted region of the body.  

Custom-Made or Custom-Fit? The Right Orthopedic Brace for You

The orthotist will advise you on whether a custom-made or custom-fitted orthosis is the best choice to correcting abnormalities. It’s important to note injuries come in a variety of ways and the appropriate treatment is determined on a case-by-case basis. Custom-made and custom-fit sound similar, but that’s the only thing they have in common. Let’s examine the differences. 

Custom-fit orthoses are pre-fabricated and readily available without the need to take a cast impression. They come in multiple sizes and adjustment capabilities including adult, pediatric, infant and bariatric. There is some customization involved, as the orthotist will need to take general measurements and apply the correct adjustments to ensure the brace is fitted safely and comfortably based off the diagnostic parameters. Since these products are easily attainable, they tend to be more affordable than a custom-made solution as they can be refurbished to extend the life of your device for an indefinite period of time.

So, is a custom-fit orthosis the best fit for you? That depends on the injury or condition, and what exactly needs resolved. A custom-fit is typically recommended for patients with less severe injuries and shorter wear time.

On the other hand, a custom-made orthosis is a highly effective solution developed specifically for each individual patient. The process is much more thorough by utilizing a variety of orthotic designs and material combinations to create a brace that’s precise and designed to capture the contours of the patient’s impacted region. This requires a series of measurements and a cast impression taken of the affected body part. This helps the orthotist to construct an intimately fitted device for the patient’s condition and activity level. A true custom-made orthosis is designed for more severe injuries or definitive use and for example, can serve as an alternative option to pre- or post-surgical ligament and bony injuries, joint replacements or other neuro/musculoskeletal conditions.  

Ask the Right Questions

Is an orthotic brace effective in the treatment of diabetic wounds or post-stroke rehabilitation? Will health insurance alleviate some of the costs? These are the questions you need answers to. And the best person to talk with is your medical doctor and a licensed orthotist. They’ll have the information you need to make a confident decision on whether orthosis is the right solution for you.

If you’re not sure of what else to ask your doctor, download our Patient Guide. 

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