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Orthotist


Description

When bad accidents happen and diseases attack the human body, people are sometimes faced with deformities and the loss of limbs. Many war veterans also get injured in combat, with the same results. Body abnormalities which prevent people from functioning properly can be very emotionally and physically disabling for people, especially when they must learn to live with the disability. However, there are solutions to help people in these situations. Orthotists design, make and fit appliances used to support weakened body parts and correct body defects under the penmarks of a doctor's prescription.

Similar to their prosthetist cousins, who make artificial limbs, orthotists are in the business of making neck, back and leg braces, and surgical supports. In fact, orthotists and prosthetists follow basically the same procedures in their work although each deals with different abnormalities, designs, and patients. Orthotists may specialize in prosthetics or orthotics, or work on both types of appliances.

Orthotists are unique paramedical professionals as they provide biomechanical devices to physically disabled persons to enable them to function better. An orthotist specializes in planning, making, and fitting orthopedic braces and similar devices such as surgical supports and corrective shoes. These are used to support weakened body parts or to correct physical defects. They change people's lives by giving them an artificial advantage through a brace.

Once a doctor writes a prescription, the patient visits the orthotist who then designs the appliance that has been prescribed. The clinician takes the measurements and moulds necessary to fabricate the appliance. For example, if the appliance prescribed is a leg brace, the orthotist must design one based on the proper length, shoe size, width and other important factors.

Orthotists also make plaster casts of the limbs that the ortheses will be attached to. This is necessary to make sure that the new appliances fit properly and cause as little discomfort as possible. Once the orthotist and patient determine the design and materials, orthotists will supervise technicians while they build the appliances. When the appliance is ready, the orthotist then fits the device, and makes any adjustments necessary to ensure optimal functional use by the patient. They might provide counselling on how to use the appliance and recommend therapy.

Orthotists may help people with cerebral palsy, hemophilia, osteogenesis imperfecta, spina bifida, diabetes, multiple sclerosis and malformation of the bones. Other reasons for braces include fractures, brain damage, muscle, tendon, and cartilage tears, and spinal cord injuries.
 
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  Interests and Skills  
Prosthetists must have good manual dexterity and a mechanical aptitude for design and creation. They enjoy working with tools, instruments and machinery that require concentration and precision. They have excellent communication skills and can work with a variety of people from clients to physicians. They are organized people with good time management skills. Finally, they are creative and imaginative problem solvers.
 

  Typical Tasks  
  • Review prescriptions which specify the types of appliances to be made
  • Examine the patient's affected area for factors which could affect the fitting of appliances
  • Measure, make, and correct a plaster cast of the limb or deformity
  • Design, build, fit and repair orthotic appliances which will function best in meeting the patient's need and fit for comfort, alignment or appearance
  • Evaluate orthotics on a patient and make adjustments to assure fit, function, comfort, and quality
  • Select appropriate materials and components and give the specifications of the brace to the technician
  • Make a brace that requires special attention
  • Counsel patients on the use of the device
  • Provide routine maintenance and repair of devices
  • Maintain accurate patient records
  • Supervise and direct the activities of prosthetic and orthotic technicians
  • Orthotists work in a variety of settings, including hospital rooms, clinics, laboratories, work rooms and fitting rooms. They work directly with clients developing specifications for fabrication. Usually, they work a standard five-day workweek, but some weekend work may be required for emergency cases.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Orthotists work in private clinics and device manufacturing companies, hospital rehabilitation departments and government agencies, and ambulatory care services and special treatment facilities (e.g. arthritis centers). Some orthotists set up their own companies and work independently.

  Long Term Career Potential  
What does the future hold for orthotists? Since the training is very specific, advancement will take the form of moving into supervisory or management positions. Also, orthotists could teach at universities and technical institutes. It is also possible to go into rehabilitation counseling or consulting. Otherwise, they could work in pharmaceutical and orthotic sales, train for dental technology or other professions that require skilled work with the hands.
 

  Educational Paths  
Orthotists are required to take a two-year college program in prosthetics and orthotics technology followed by two years of supervised practical training.
 

Sources:
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002, http://www.bls.gov/oes/2002/oes_nat.htm

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