Orthotic Devices for Sports : Sports Injury Prevention

Sports injuries often involve musculoskeletal trauma to the joints, bones, tendons, ligaments, and nerves. Orthopaedic surgeons may specialize in sports injuries and disorders by surgical or non-surgical means, such as orthotic devices. Main uses of orthotic devices are to improve the function of the injured or vulnerable body part, to correct deformities from injury, and to facilitate alignment through supporting the back, joints, muscles, and limb ligaments and tendons.

Orthotic rehabilitation

Professionals trained to develop and advise on orthotic devices have trained for five years in general medicine before completing four year orthopaedic training courses specialising in sports injury medicine. Orthotic devices are recommended according to diagnosis by a Medical Doctor, Orthopaedic Surgeon, Chiropractor or Physiotherapist. Some Cosmetic Surgeons are also trained to advise on orthotic devices. Orthotic devices are also used as part of rehabilitative techniques to treat injured athletes after reconstruction, support implants or repair surgery.

How orthoses are designed, used and fitted depends on recommended materials, the athletic activity or sport, the physique of the injured athlete, and testing methods such as gait analysis. The medical doctor will provide instructions to the lab technician to design an orthotic device according to the sports person's injury, such as special paddings and heel lifts.

If not custom-made, some orthoses are prefabricated and then adjusted to the patient according to dimensions of small, medium and large. Many of these devices are available via prescription through a pharmacy. Some soft orthotic insoles can be purchased without prescription. However, the fitting and comfort of the device is imperative to healing so that additional physical dysfunctions are avoided.

Types of Orthotic Devices

Common orthoses are insoles or foot inserts, splints and casts, but some may be used more in specific sports than others. Athletes often use semi-rigid orthotics that are layered for support and to provide balance when moving or pronating the feet. Sports insoles especially protect the tendons from overstretch and from tear. Other devices include walking aids or crutches, knee, ankle and spinal braces to provide stability to ligaments or fractured bone, particularly in the joints.

Although many sports, such as tennis, cricket and golf, have footwear tailored for the sport, players may still need additional support to balance the body's pressure distribution and to control posture. Depending on budget and requirements, there is quite a selection of devices for foot rehabilitation. A current trend by manufacturers is to use Co-polymer Carbon Technology for density and ultra-durability during long sporting sessions. Many of these devices are created specially for marathon runners and sprinters, cyclists and golfers. Developments in winter sports have seen a range of orthoses emerge for snow boarders, ice skaters and skiers.

Seeking advice on Orthotics

Overuse or overstretching muscles can cause tendons to rupture, ligaments to tear, or stress fractures in bones. Some injuries, such as sprained ankle may be due to an immediate sporting accident, while others occur gradually from incorrect athletic exercise technique. Seeking professional advice from a trained sports professional, physiotherapist or medical doctor can help athletes determine at what point a specific orthotic device is necessary to reduce risk of and prevent sports injury.

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