Learning to Accept my Ankle-Foot Orthotic

I have to be honest with you all and say that I am not a fan of my AFO. For those that have no idea what that means, it’s an Ankle-Foot Orthotic. It’s a plastic brace that comes up right below the knee and it helps me maintain balance along with a host of other things. With that being said, I can recognize its value and purpose and still not be in love with it. It’s not a perfect solution but it’s what works for me in the present.

Living daily life in an AFO and exercising in an AFO are two very separate things. Exercising in an AFO can be very tough because its main function is to limit the range of motion so that it forces your body into a correct posture and gait, exercising, for the most part, is about expanding your range of motion. If my AFO can’t allow me to point and flex my feet what was I to do? I quickly realized that I had to accommodate the range of motion I had with the brace as a foundation for a daily exercise routine and then I could build from there.

If I were to ride a stationary bike it had to be one lower to the ground and styled with the pedals out in front so that I could engage all the right muscle while still being able to have the momentum to complete a cycle. Any training on the treadmill couldn’t include running because the brace itself doesn’t have a break in the toes to support proper push off for a run. I had to know that because the brace was made of a thermoplastic that it wasn’t always going to be the most comfortable thing to wear especially since all the power behind my workouts was either driving into the brace or spring loading up from the brace to complete the movement. It isn’t easy but you adapt.

My social anxieties were also heightened when I did wear the AFO out in public, especially in clothes where it couldn’t be hidden under pants. I hated having the brace on display, not because of my lukewarm relationship with it but because it became a visual cue for people to front-load their pity or their overwhelming attempts to try and be “helpful” when I didn’t need it. While I understand the intention I have to say, Handicapped people know that they are handicapped, they are well aware of their limitations and when they truly do need help they will ask for it otherwise you are taking away agency for a person who wants to live as truly independent as possible.

With all that being said, I don’t think I’ll ever love my AFO, it’s an individual journey that I don’t think I’ll ever get to the other side of because of…

REASONS.

But I respect it. I respect that it helps me maintain a semblance of independence without the use of a cane or walker. I respect that the AFO helps me to stand tall and keep up with friends and family. I respect that it is retraining my brain to subconsciously walk with a better gait. I can look past its shortcomings to see that the positives far outweigh the negatives. That is a good way to look at a lot of things in life. We can’t always love or even hate something with absolution. We have to recognize that certain things serve a purpose and they are inherently good even if we can never grow to love them. We adapt as best we can and keep it moving for the sake of positive growth. That’s what my AFO means to me.


Until next time readers…
-Bianca

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