Adapting splints in combination with the footwear used by disabled children to help them walk can decrease the energy they use by as much as 33%, according to researchers in the journal The Foot.

In the study, conducted by the Clinical Biomechanics team at Staffordshire University and the orthotics specialists from The Royal Wolverhampton NHS Trust, researchers examined the effectiveness of tuning the splint – footwear combination, using clinical trials with families in the West Midlands.

“Helping children with disabilities to play longer and do the things that other children can do is important for all families. The more children with disabilities can play with their friends and do activities they enjoy, the more included they feel,” explains Nachi Chockalingam, Professor of Clinical Biomechanics, in a media release from Staffordshire University.

“We know that children with cerebral palsy use more energy to walk, and our team have found fine-tuning splints to suit the individual needs of a child can make huge difference to their overall mobility,” Chockalingam adds.

“Our research shows that the appropriate design and tailoring of splints can reduce the energy used by children with CP while increasing their speed and distance, compared with a splint which is not fine-tuned. This is something which could have a significant impact on their quality of life,” adds Dr Nicola Eddison, Clinical lead for Orthotics Service at The Royal Wolverhampton NHS Trust and a Senior Research Fellow, Centre for Biomechanics and Rehabilitation Technologies, Staffordshire University, in the release.

Adapting splints and footwear can decrease the energy children with cerebral palsy use by as much as 33%, according to researchers. (Photo courtesy of Staffordshire University)

During the study, the researchers analyzed the walking pattern of children with cerebral palsy at Staffordshire University’s specialist gait laboratory, and participants were assessed while barefoot and with both non-tuned and tuned splints.

Children wearing the fine-tuned splints showed improvements in several areas including hip and pelvic function and knee extension, while a non-tuned splint potentially showed a decrease in hip function.

The researchers recommend fine-tuning splints for all children with cerebral palsy who wear them and hope that their findings will be used to inform future clinical practice.

In addition, they call for standardization of terminologies used within splints, which are also known as Ankle Foot Orthoses (AFO), to help future research and clinical practice.

“There still remains a lack of research on the longer-term effects of using a fine-tuned splints but our studies provide a stepping stone to improving quality of life for many children,” Chockalingam concludes.

[Source(s): Staffordshire University, EurekAlert]