Knee Ankle Foot Orthosis

What Is Knee-Ankle-Foot Orthosis?

An important device for anyone who has lost proper use of part of the leg, the knee-ankle-foot orthosis, or KAFO, can provide a means of gaining mobility once again. 

What is an orthosis?

The definition of orthosis is a device that is designed to support failing or malfunctioning joints and/or muscles.  It is designed and fabricated specifically by a certified orthotist for one individual rather than a “one size fits all” mentality to ensure that the wearer will have a custom fit that is comfortable and effective.

An orthosis may be in the form of a knee brace, cervical collar, spinal brace, neck brace, elbow support, ankle/foot brace or leg brace. 

Why they are needed

The field of orthotics began in the early 1950’s but began to grow with increased need at the conclusion of World War II when an outbreak of polio warranted the devices.  More recently, the number of people suffering from diabetes and obesity has reached almost epidemic proportions.  Diabetes on its own is the leading cause for loss of limbs, and since obesity leads to diabetes, the rapidly growing percentage of individuals who are obese will require even more advances of professionals in this field.  Following diabetic amputees is the second leader in limb loss, cardiovascular disease. 

In addition to these diseases, there are approximately 20% of Americans who have suffered either partial or complete paralysis due to an accident or disease that require the use of an orthosis.  Paralysis, along with certain other conditions, incorporates uses in which the orthosis do not replace the limb but rather supports the limb. 

Knee-Ankle-Foot Orthosis

A KAFO is a device that encompasses the body parts indicated in the term.  Extending from the thigh down to the foot, this device is utilized to stabilize the lower limb by controlling its motion and maintaining the alignment of the limb.  A large number of conditions can cause instabilities of the lower leg, including arthritic joints, bowed legs, broken bones, hyperextension of the knee, paralysis or muscular weakness. 

KAFO devices can be fashioned from either just metal or metal and plastic.  The original design was a metal structure that was shaped to the individual’s limb, connected by leather to attach the device to the leg.  With advanced technology, the devices have now become lighter in weight through plastic construction.  This type of KAFO is still molded to the individual’s limb and uses metal for structural strength in key areas only.  Considered to be more aesthetically pleasing, the plastic and metal format is the most utilized one today. 

There are various designs for the KAFO, depending on the wearer’s need. The individual will work closely with their orthotist who will fabricate the device according to the need, instruct the wearer on the special features it possesses and the proper methods of putting it on to optimize its features.  Specific instructions on wearing the KAFO will be given, but generally the following schedule is recommended:

Using the knee-ankle-foot orthosis should never cause pain, although it will naturally take some getting used to wearing.  Most people generally have little to no difficulty with the KAFO, and quickly adapt to the returned mobility they enjoy.