What Are Orthotics?

Technically speaking, the terms orthotics refers to the art and science of manufacturing orthoses – that is, devices used to support the human body. The term “orthotics” is commonly used, however, to describe the devices themselves. 

There are many types of orthoses. Splints for the finger, hand, wrist, and elbow are orthoses, as are supports or braces for the foot, ankle, and leg. 

There are also many design options for orthoses. They may be hard or soft. They may be rigid or hinged. They may be dynamic (producing motion) or static (fixed). They may be prefabricated (prefab) or custom.

What Can I Expect When Orthotics are Used at Pittsburgh Foot & Hand?

We often dispense prefabricated finger and wrist splints in the office for convenience. We also supply various ankle splints and boots for the treatment of fractures and to support post-op recovery.

We also will prescribe prefabricated orthotics not in our supply as needed. We have examined many orthotic manufacturers and selected the items of the highest quality that best support our patient treatment protocols. We do not have any financial interest in these companies. 

If a custom orthosis is prescribed, you will be given a prescription for the orthosis, including your diagnosis and the exact details for manufacture of the orthosis. We will also include the suggested manufacturer for the orthosis. We highly recommend that our patients have their orthotics made by these suggested manufacturers. They will take an impression or mold of your upper extremity or lower extremity and then fabricate the custom orthosis. After completion, they will also instruct you on its use and make any necessary adjustments or trimming. 

What if I Look into Orthotics Available Outside of Pittsburgh Foot & Hand? 

Fabricating orthoses is still very much an art as well as a science. We can supply you with the same prescription, send you to 10 different manufacturers, and have you come back with 10 very different orthoses! For that reason, we deal with a small number of manufacturers that are used to our custom designs. This is to ensure quality assurance and higher levels of patient service.

Unfortunately, when patients return to us with orthoses made at manufacturers “closer to me” or “in my insurance plan”, they are frequently the wrong type of device or are incorrectly made. There are also usually no refunds for these orthoses, and the patient is then required to spend an additional amount for their correct orthoses. 

Additional details about commonly prescribed orthotics can be found below:

  • We frequently prescribe custom AFO, Crow walkers or UCBL orthoses for our foot and ankle patients. We have selected a small number of orthotic manufacturers over the past 23 years to create these for our patients. We have also developed specific orthotic protocols and designs that are known to these manufacturers. They are willing and capable to make any necessary adjustments. And by working repeatedly with these manufacturers, we are able to ensure excellent quality assurance and service. 
  • We also frequently prescribe custom foot orthoses or inlays for our foot and ankle patients. We have worked with Union Prosthetics for over 20 years to design and fine-tune the design of these orthotics. They are customized for each patient. We use state of the art viscoelastic gel for cushioning in needed areas and durable high-density closed-cell foams of varying durometer (firmness) to provide support or shock absorption where needed. The result is a lightweight, supportive, durable, shock absorbing orthotic that can be used for everyday activities as well as athletics. We have had success using these in both workers and professional athletes. However, we have found that other manufacturers have difficulty duplicating this particular design.
  • Custom upper extremity splints and orthoses are also sometimes necessary for our patients. These will usually be manufactured at the occupational therapy unit where you are referred for hand therapy. Once again, you will receive a prescription, detailing the design and objectives of the orthosis. As noted in the Therapy section, we can usually help you with selecting an occupational therapy unit in your region.