24 July 2020

Another New Set of Braces

Recently I got some new braces  that only provide assistance with my foot drop. The idea is that I need to use my own body for every aspect of walking except upward foot movement (also known as dorsiflexion) now. This is due to my paralysis which now exists only in my ankles and feet (but muscle atrophy does still exist throughout my lower body). So, I need to push my body to get stronger by relying on it for all aspects of walking with the exception of dorsiflexion. The type of braces I wear are known as an ankle-foot orthoses or AFOs and are more common than you would think. Most often, I see someone wearing one, though I have seen two other people wearing two. As you can see in the video, all the cases shown are people wearing only one. In my case I need to wear two because I'm not dealing with only foot drop, but the bilateral paralysis from the spinal cord injury.

I have not dove into wearing these braces full-time like I did with my current braces when I got them. In fact, it will be quite a while before I am ready for this because it's going to take time to build the strength to be able to do so. When I wear these braces in public (and I've only done this a couple times so far) I am back to using two arm crutches again because my muscles from my hips on down are just not strong enough yet. The crutches help me with stability and also with moving faster with my stride. So, I only wear the braces around the house right now but I'm doing this most days now. The result is increased soreness in my calves, hamstrings, hips and glutes from the use of more muscles. But this is a good thing because it means I'm still moving forward (believe it or not, I am very, very grateful for this soreness). One thing that's still very tough is foot placement as I take steps. This due to the lack of dorsiflexion in my feet and also just the general weakness in my lower legs. I'm hopeful that the dorsiflexion will come in time as I continue to build strength in my lower legs because I already have plantar flexion (downward foot movement).

From the video above, you can see there's not much to these braces. And the structure that is there is not high strength carbon fiber like my current braces. It's actually fairly soft and allows your body to do almost 100% of the work. This is the intention of these braces whereas my current braces are meant to replace all function of my calves and ankles which is huge difference! My current braces allow me to ambulate by compensating for my lack of calf and ankle strength with other muscles such as the hamstrings and glutes. While this gives me a lot of mobility it also means that my stride is not very big and I'm not using all my muscles like I would prefer to do eventually. I really like my current braces because they made me so much more mobile immediately when I began using them. But I had been wondering for a while if I had gotten new braces sooner how much further I would be by now. But I don't spend much time thinking about that because my body is already quite tired every night moving forward with the new braces every day and I'm very grateful for the progress I am making.

My goal is to wear these new braces more and more to force my body to become stronger over time. It's not easy at all. In fact, it's quite difficult and requires a level of acceptance that I had no idea I was capable of when all of this began six years ago. It's basically like a different kind of work out every day now (just imagine for a minute that simple walking was a difficult workout for you and you might understand my situation a bit better). I started using these new braces back in May but had to get into the habit of wearing them every day and just around the house. Now that I'm more into this habit over the last couple months, I'm already seeing some strength gains. So, I just need to keep moving forward.

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