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Clin Orthop Relat Res. 2014 Oct;472(10):3026-35. doi: 10.1007/s11999-014-3661-3.

How does ankle-foot orthosis stiffness affect gait in patients with lower limb salvage?

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Center for the Intrepid, Department of Orthopaedics and Rehabilitation, Brooke Army Medical Center, Ft Sam Houston, TX, USA.



Ankle-foot orthoses (AFOs) are commonly prescribed during rehabilitation after limb salvage. AFO stiffness is selected to help mitigate gait deficiencies. A new custom dynamic AFO, the Intrepid Dynamic Exoskeletal Orthosis (IDEO), is available to injured service members but prescription guidelines are limited.


In this study we ask (1) does dynamic AFO stiffness affect gait parameters such as joint angles, moments, and powers; and (2) can a given dynamic AFO stiffness normalize gait mechanics to noninjured control subjects?


Thirteen patients with lower limb salvage (ankle arthrodesis, neuropathy, foot/ankle reconstruction, etc) after major lower extremity trauma and 13 control subjects who had no lower extremity trauma and wore no orthosis underwent gait analysis at a standardized speed. Patients wore their custom IDEO with posterior struts of three different stiffnesses: nominal (clinically prescribed stiffness), compliant (20% less stiff), and stiff (20% stiffer). Joint angles, moments, powers, and ground reaction forces were compared across the varying stiffnesses of the orthoses tested and between the patient and control groups.


An increase in AFO compliance resulted in 20% to 26% less knee flexion relative to the nominal (p = 0.003) and stiff (p = 0.001) conditions, respectively. Ankle range of motion and power generation were, on average, 56% (p < 0.001) and 63% (p < 0.001), respectively, less than controls as a result of the relatively fixed ankle position.


Patients with limb salvage readily adapted to different dynamic AFO stiffnesses and demonstrated few biomechanical differences among conditions during walking. None of the stiffness conditions normalized gait to controls.


The general lack of differences across a 40% range of strut stiffness suggests that orthotists do not need to invest large amounts of time identifying optimal device stiffness for patients who use dynamic AFOs for low-impact activities such as walking. However, choosing a stiffer strut may more readily translate to higher-impact activities and offer less chance of mechanical failure.

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