The standard definition of an "orthosis" or "orthotic" is a device that is used to "support, align, protect, correct or improve function of a body part." Now what does that all mean?
to support something, we hold it up or maintain the position. Orthoses are used to position or hold up many of the body parts such as the wrist, back and feet. A wrist hand orthosis (WHO) may be used for someone who has carpal tunnel syndrome from holding the wrist in one position for prolonged periods or for someone who has paralysis of the muscles of the wrist and need help preventing the hand and fingers from dropping. A cervical orthosis (CO) or neck brace may be used for someone who has had a neck injury or weakness in the muscles of the neck. Foot orthoses (orthotics) may be used to support foot structures that have dropped.
to align something, we adjust it to put it into proper line. A good example is a knee orthosis (KO) or knee brace that is used for people who have a knock-kneed or bow-legged position of the knees. The KO can help maintain the knee in a straight position or the bones in line to improve function, prevent joint damage and/or reduce pain.
many people have diseases or deformities where the skin or joints are susceptible to injury or skin break down. Orthoses can be used to protect the body part, joint or skin. Foot orthoses can protect and redistribute force away from painful areas, protective helmets can be used to protect the head for people who have seizures or are at risk for falling and back braces can be used to protect the back from injury during activity. The Charcot Restraint Orthotic Walker (CROW)is another example of an orthoses used to protect a joint from further damage for people who have diabetic neuropathy and joint destruction.
Orthoses are also used to correct gait deformities or function of a body part. Ankle foot orthoses (AFO) are often used for people who have foot drop and help to hold the foot in a proper position to allow a safe swing of the leg without hitting the ground and a proper landing so that the foot and knee does not collapse. The WalkAide also helps to correct the gait pattern by using a neurostimulator to cause the muscles in the leg to lift the foot and prevent foot drop and tripping.
many different types of orthoses can improve the function of the body. For example, thumb supports hold the thumb in a position that is improved for holding and gripping items, and foot orthoses (orthotics) are used to allow the feet to move through the proper range to be more effective at propelling the body forward.