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Orthotic Care FAQs

What is orthotics?

Orthotics is the science and practice of evaluating, measuring, designing, fabricating, assembling, fitting, adjusting or servicing an orthosis. Orthotists work with a prescription from a licensed physician, chiropractor or podiatrist to correct or alleviate neuromuscular or musculoskeletal dysfunction, disease, injury or deformity. The field began to expand in the late 1950's after World War II and an outbreak of polio increased the need for orthoses.

What is an orthotist?

An orthotist is an allied healthcare professional who is specifically educated and trained to manage comprehensive orthotic patient care. This includes patient assessment, formation of a treatment plan, implementation of the treatment plan, follow-up and practice management.

What is a Certified Orthotist (CO)?

ABC Certified Orthotists are healthcare professionals that have demonstrated knowledge and competence in the field of orthotics.  Their qualifications include a college degree in prosthetics and orthotics or in some cases, a college degree plus a orthotic certificate program, followed by a yearlong formal residency program. These individuals are then eligible to sit for a three part series of rigorous examinations to test their knowledge and skills in this discipline. ABC Certified Orthotists must also maintain their credential through continuing education. Individuals who meet these qualifications are certified by the American Board for Certification in Orthotics, Prosthetics and Pedorthics (ABC). Patients may also see the title (CPO), which means the practitioner is certified by ABC in both prosthetics and orthotics.

What does a Certified Orthotist do?

An ABC Certified Orthotist evaluates the needs and goals of individuals with physical deficiencies in order to design, make, fit and maintain an orthosis or brace. These devices are used to support weakened body parts and correct body defects under the order of a doctor's prescription. They work closely with those who have congenital problems or disabling diseases to restore physiological function. To provide this care effectively and comprehensively, ABC Certified Orthotists have specialized education and skills that enable them to match current and emerging orthotic techniques and technology to their patients’ needs and goals. They form and implement an orthotic treatment plan, provide follow-up care and coordinate services with related medical professionals.

ABC Certified Orthotists can assist patients by:

  • Accommodating weakened body parts
  • Re-aligning of anatomical structures
  • Helping patients to walk safely and efficiently
  • Educating patients on how to improve the functionality of orthotic devices
  • Identifying environmental barriers including social, home and work reintegration
  • Redistributing external and internal forces
  • Improving overall balance
  • Accommodating special circulatory requirements
  • Enhancing the actions of limbs compromised as a result of accident, congenital deformity, neural condition or disease

How can patients find an ABC Certified Orthotist?

ABC offers a free searchable database of its Certified Orthotists (COs) and accredited orthotic and prosthetic facilities to assist patients in finding a qualified professional and facility.

When considering a practitioner's credentials, patients should look for:

  • completion of a formal education, a structured residency program and clinical experience
  • passage of a series of written and hands on clinical examinations
  • completion of ongoing continuing education courses

Patients may also see the title (CPO), which means the practitioner is certified by ABC in both Prosthetics and Orthotics. A practitioner’s certification should always be verified, as this is an indication of qualifications. As a CO or CPO, practitioners are bound by ABC’s standards of ethics, making them accountable to the patient, the physician and the profession.

How can patients find a facility that works best for them?

Picking the right facility is just as important as picking the right orthotist.

Patients should consider a few questions:

  • Is the facility accredited? ABC operates a stringent accreditation program that indicates that the facility meets strict quality guidelines.
  • Does the orthotist have experience or additional training working with different age groups or specific types of orthosis? As techniques and technology in orthotics advance, orthotists have to keep up with the changes by attending continuing education courses or conferences, make sure the orthotist you choose is keeping up to date.
  • How convenient is the facility? While this might not be a final factor, patients should know that a good treatment plan will often include multiple visits, so it is helpful to consider a facility’s proximity and office hours.

Before deciding on a orthotist or facility, patients should:

  • tour the facility, meet the staff and talk with the orthotist
  • discuss possible treatment options and get a sense of how the orthotist will approach their individual situation

What is an orthotic fitter?

An orthotic fitter is a healthcare professional who often works with an orthotist in fitting certain orthotic devices. An individual certified by ABC as a Certified Fitter-orthotics (CFo) is a professional who is specifically educated and trained in the provision of certain orthoses, including patient assessment, formulation of a treatment plan, implementation of the treatment plan, follow-up and practice management.

What is an orthosis?

An orthosis is a device designed to provide support to ailing, frail or malfunctioning joints and/or muscles. Examples of orthoses include knee braces, elbow supports, protective face masks, halos, cervical collars, ankle/foot or leg braces, spinal and neck braces.

How does the process of working with an orthotist begin?

If a patient requires orthotic services, an orthotist works with the patient’s healthcare team (including his or her physician) to develop the best orthotic plan of care and to make and fit the most appropriate device to address that patient’s unique goals. 

Do patients need a prescription from a physician to get an orthosis?

Yes, patients are required to have a physician's prescription before an orthosis can be made. However, prescriptions are not needed for initial evaluations.

Is wearing an orthosis painful?

Wearing an orthosis should not be painful. If an orthosis causes pain the patient should contact their orthotist immediately for a follow up evaluation. In addition, while wearing any type of orthosis patients must take good care of their skin to prevent skin breakdown. Skin breakdown can be any type of sore, red, raw or blistered area.

 To avoid skin breakdown patients should:

  • keep the orthosis clean with mild soap and water or a non-toxic cleaner
  • avoid skin creams or lotions that come in contact with the orthosis

If a patient experiences skin breakdown, they should contact their orthotist immediately.

How often should an orthosis be replaced?

The useable life of an orthosis depends on many factors. Patient weight and activity level, as well as the specific design of the device, all contribute to the actual wear of the orthosis. The materials used to fabricate an orthosis are generally very durable and material wear is usually not the main reason for needing a new device.

Some parts, such as straps, are replaced and maintained many times before the orthosis is completely replaced. The most frequent reason for replacement of an orthosis is body changes that affect the fit of the device. It is reasonable to expect most orthoses to be useable for one year or more and some can be worn for many years. It is important to have the orthosis re-evaluated every six to 12 months to ensure its integrity.

How often should patients see an orthotist?

A visit to an orthotist is usually associated with either being fitted with a new orthosis or addressing a fitting or maintenance issue with an existing one. Follow-up appointments are necessary to identify changes in the patient’s anatomy or overall condition before a problem arises. Patients should see an orthotist every three to six months for follow-up care or sooner if they notice changes in their weight or experience changes in their activity level. The orthotist will inform patients whether their orthosis requires more frequent follow-up care or specific maintenance.

Do patients need a prescription for an adjustment?

Not usually; however, if the adjustment involves changing the basic type or function of the orthosis then patients may need to see their physician for a prescription.

What should patients do if their orthosis is not working correctly?

First, patients should stop wearing their orthosis if they notice that any part of it is broken, loose, cracked, making an unusual noise, causing discomfort or skin breakdown. Then, patients should inform their orthotist immediately of any issues, so that the orthosis can be corrected or a replacement can be provided. 



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