I was stricken with infantile paralysis (polio) at the age of two and had my last tendon stretching operation at about eleven, after that I tried to forget about it and get on with my life.
About five years ago I started to collapse forward and realized that the time had arrived when I needed some support in walking. I first paid for a brace to be made for me but it was not successful, so decided to have a go at making one myself. This, of course was all new to me so it was a matter of starting from scratch.
My first attempt was made from an old metal “House Sale” sign. When finished and painted black it looked terrific and was a tremendous help in walking. Unfortunately it suffered constantly from metal fatigue and became heavier with the required additional strengthening. So I arranged for another brace to be made for me from another source, however I was I informed it would take some time because they were very busy and short staffed. So in the mean time I continued to refine and use my home made brace. The result after quite a number of modifications was, I thought, quite good. It weighs around a kilo and is now constructed of stainless steel. I made the knee joint adjustable so that I could keep the angle up to just behind the falling forward stage. The lower pressure pad is behind the non-existent calf muscles and the pad above the knee is at the front of the barely existent thigh muscles. I drilled holes in the pads to vent the heat and lighten them, and also pivoted them in the centre so they maintained even pressure over the whole area. I had found that when they were in a fixed position it was extremely hard to stop pressure being exerted on the top or bottom of the pad. I can honestly say that in the years I wore it I never had a pressure sore, and that includes playing eighteen holes of golf each week. The ankle joint is flexible and the foot section fits all of the shoes I wear, including my golf shoes. The main problems were still maintenance issues due to my lack of understanding of the materials used, lack of access to suitable screws and fittings, and my constant effort to reduce the weight which contributed to a few structural failures along the way. One little refinement I am very proud of is my guard over the knee joint to stop my trousers being caught in it and being ruined when walking and sitting.
The new brace being made for me was finally completed after three years so I changed over to that and I have been using it now for a number of months. It is extremely well made and is constructed from the new materials available and moulded on a cast of my leg.
I suppose one needs to actually wear a brace for some time to really understand the problems that are faced, and I found that I needed to make a few changes to it to improve its comfort and usability. I have no criticism at all of the makers, it seems a very well-constructed item, but I think that the positioning of the top pad on the back of the leg is not as comfortable for me and doesn’t allow the knee to fully bend to the squatting posit ion. It can also give the wearer a painful pinch on the back of the leg when sit ting on a chair. The fixed pads also make it hard to avoid pressure points and I have had to put extra padding in a number of places. There wasn’t any adjustment at the knee joint so I inserted wedges to stop the knee going back too far, and also a guard to stop my trousers being pinched. I didn’t take it back to the manufacturer for alteration because they are so busy with more worthwhile cases and my wacky ideas might seem a slight on their achievement. They were very helpful when I was making my own brace, so I am extremely grateful to them.
My old brace is at present in pieces on the work bench awaiting more modifications. Because my leg has shrunk even more I am considering constructing a standard brace with straighter side struts that are adjustable between knee and ankle. The pads will still be free floating and will be moulded to the shape of the leg. This means that when my leg shrinks even more I only have to modify the pad and not have the whole brace remade. I enjoy tinkering in my workshop, but with many other interests it may take some time to get around to the modifications. I also read about new innovations, such as robotic contraptions coming on to the market! And dream that one day I will be able to try one and compete in a Marathon! Of course, at seventy eight this is very much wishful thinking, but it doesn’t hurt to dream does it.
I hope other brace wearers find my article of interest.