About Leg Braces

Leg braces do not actually "hold" a person up, but rather serve to keep certain weak joints straight so that the wearer´s own bone structure supports his or her weight. They also help to keep legs and feet in "correct" positions, preventing the development of, or return of, muscle contractures or other deformities.

In countries where plastic is readily available, braces can now often be made to hug closely a person´s legs and slip inside shoes, offering lighter weight and greater concealment. Unfortunately, braces of this type are not very practical in the developing environment of DR Congo. The supplies and equipment necessary for making and replacing plastic braces are still relatively difficult to obtain and usually quite costly. Furthermore, plastic braces tend to break rather frequently, given the especially hard use they get in Congo. When they break, they leave sharp edges which can result in injury to wearers if not repaired immediately. Often, since plastic braces are molded to fit exactly the shape of the wearer´s leg, they can´t be repaired but must instead be replaced. In the case of growing children, they need frequent replacement whether they break or not.

For these reasons, StandProud offers instead durable, high-quality hinged metal braces fitted to second-hand shoes. These place fewer burdens on beneficiaries´ families, since they need to be repaired and replaced less often, and since repairs and lengthenings (for growing children) can often be performed by even non-specialized neighborhood welders and cobblers without beneficiaries having to make a special trip back to the StandProud center that originally crafted the braces. (Though to the lay eye metal braces may appear "heavy," a full ... both metal and plastic types, in fact, report feeling more secure ... less durable plastic type.)


Different Brace Types

1) A person with a very weak ankle which tends to "roll" inward or outward, or to not lift the front of the foot sufficiently for walking, can often be helped by a short, below-the-knee brace.

Pictured Above: Beneficiaries who have benefited from short braces


2) A person with a weak knee, that either bends backward or forward as soon as weight is applied, or which cannot support any weight at all, often will be helped considerably by a full-leg brace. The brace keeps the leg straight when walking and in many cases frees the user from having to use a cane for support or from holding the weak leg with one hand for every step.



Pictured Above: Beneficiaries who have benefited from one full length leg brace.

A releasable lock on the hinge allows the user to bend the brace for sitting:





3) A person whose legs turn in or out due to weak hip muscles may need to have the braces lengthened to connect to a special belt above the hip. The belt forces the braces (and legs) to align properly.





Pictured Above: Beneficiaries wearing braces with a corrective belt.

4) A person whose lower back muscles are too weak to provide any help at all in keeping the body upright may need to have the leg braces extended to chest level and attached to a metal-reinforced leather corset. A lockable hinge at the hip keeps the torso straight during walking, but releases for sitting.





Pictured Above: Beneficiaries wearing supportive corsets



Braces fit under clothing, and are minimally noticeable.






Even hip belts and corsets are relatively easily concealed.



Replacing Poor Equipment



Pictured left: a child wearing poor orthopedic equipment purchased by her family. Pictured center and right: a child wearing StandProud braces. She asked our staff to paint the metal red to match her shoes.

Though most Congolese who need orthopedic equipment have not been able to afford any treatment at all, some were able to obtain primitive, non-hinged braces made from construction "rebar" attached to wooden sandals. Unfortunately, quickly-made splint-like braces of this type rarely provide sufficient corrective support for weak ankles and feet, and thus allow deformities to develop which eventually lead to decreased mobility for the user.

Splint-like braces are also embarrassingly awkward and inconvenient, since they keep the leg straight all the time. Users find it quite difficult to get in and out of vehicles, or to sit in locations (such as churches, theaters, pubs, etc.) where there is not a large space between the seats. Typically their entry causes some commotion, which draws stares from other people and makes the disabled person extremely self-conscious.

 

StandProud can fairly rapidly replace splint-type braces with high-quality, locally-made, hinged braces fitted to real shoes. These permit greater protection of the ankle as well as bending of the leg at the knee for sitting and other activities. They are thus considerably more comfortable, more convenient (providing access into small places), and (when worn under clothing) generally much less noticeable.

      

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