December 2012

Bracemasters: Designing for a range of patients, from pediatrics to seniors

By Barbara Boughton

Bracemasters International is a 16-year-old company, headquartered in New Berlin, WI, that began as a manufacturer of custom prosthetics and orthotics for a broad range of lower extremity patients. In 2008, the company switched gears to focus on expanding custom lower extremity orthotics for both pediatric and adult patients with a range of conditions. They also introduced evidence-based education for clinicians designed to improve outcomes with their products.

“We wanted to bring an evidence-based approach to optimizing lower extremity bracing for the custom market,” said Chief Executive Officer Timothy O’Keefe. As well as a line of custom DRAFOs (dynamic response ankle foot orthoses) and a full line of traditional custom products, the company offers clinical education programs at industry conferences around the country. (DRAFO is a registered trademark of Bracemasters International.)

Since 2008, the company has expanded to provide custom lower extremity devices to a wide range of pediatric, adult, and senior patients, and its products include devices from more traditional rigid control ankle and foot orthoses to semirigid and flexible plastic devices that are alternatives to traditional leather gauntlets. One of its newest products is a prefabricated plastic sport brace, the DRAFO Sport, designed to replace athletic tape as a way to prevent ankle injuries.

Along with its new custom DRAFO products, the company has unveiled clinical education programs to complement use of the DRAFO. The program emphasizes working to improve a patient’s alignment, balance, and gait biomechanics in stance rather than swing phase without forcing ankle alignment, O’Keefe said.

The Bracemasters clinical education program is based on studies from the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland, that revealed the need to focus on stance phase and to not force ankle alignment; for example, dorsiflexion to 90°.

“The DRAFO stabilizes the limb, promoting the levers of the foot and leg to be aligned to the floor, much like the below-knee amputation prosthetic alignment process which induces optimum biomechanical and kinematic attributes to maximize gait,” O’Keefe said.

The company’s DRAFO is made of an outer plastic shell combined with an inner boot made of a unique soft, bio-elastic material, according to O’Keefe. “With these materials, we can produce orthoses with a lower profile design and less structural weight and mass,” he said. “We’ve also been able to achieve great outcomes by combining the control of the device with a focus on alignment and balance.”

According to O’Keefe, the result is that the patient is biomechanically aligned, helping create a more balanced gait. “It’s easier for patients to ambulate,” he said. “Patients who’ve had a compensatory gait move on to develop a smooth even gait with the DRAFO through an emphasis on gait biomechanics in stance phase.”

Although the outer shell of the orthosis provides support, the flexible inner boot makes full contact more possible, enabling a more comfortable, effective, and user-friendly brace, O’Keefe said.

Bracemasters’ clinical program is usually provided through lectures and educational materials distributed at medical conferences for clinicians, O’Keefe said. “It’s a way for us to illustrate to clinical professionals, such as orthotists, podiatrists, physicians, and physical therapists, the value of an evidence-based approach to lower extremity management. It shows them simple measureable ways to improve their outcomes.”

Bracemasters’ DRAFO and Traditional product lines are used for any condition of the lower extremity that can benefit from biomechanical and kinematic alignment. Bracemaster’s unique evidence-based approach provides a simple process for effective outcomes measurement, O’Keefe said. The company’s annual sales are currently concentrated with custom lower extremity orthoses, though O’Keefe hopes to expand the company’s bottom line through its newly developed plastic athletic brace.

The brace, which is being tested by players on high school, college, and professional sports teams, is meant to prevent injuries such as ankle sprains and enhance recovery from ankle injuries sustained during athletics and other physical activities. It is prefabricated and available in a number of standard sizes.

“A lot of soft braces for ankle protection provide minimal results. They either don’t do much or they don’t last very long. Our brace is designed to strategically control inversion and eversion for preventive reasons as well as recovery situations,” O’Keefe said.

The new sport brace, which has not yet been released in retail markets, will be marketed to athletic teams as well as big box retailers, consumers, and the US military, O’Keefe said. Made from a unique bio-elastic blend, it has a low-profile waterproof design that can fit easily into an athlete’s shoes, O’Keefe said.

“Feedback from the sports teams who have tried the sport brace has been positive, and next we need to focus on finalizing design and sizing details to prepare for an effective full launch,” O’Keefe said. “We are focused on growing the company by expanding the products and service we provide to practitioners and their customers.”

Barbara Boughton is a freelance health and medical writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Article sponsored by Bracemasters.

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