Inspiration to Invent

In this post, Dr. Richie shares his early experiences developing the Richie Brace.

What was the impetus for your first brace?
Early in my practice, I found it challenging to fit athletic patients with ankle braces, especially when they wore foot orthotics. I had a vision to combine an ankle brace with a foot orthotic.  

Tell us about the first prototype of the Richie Brace.
Years later, I saw a prefabricated ankle brace that had a foot plate articulated to a plastic stirrup-type brace. It was called the Sure Step. I contacted the owner of the company to work with me to make a custom version of his brace. The project was a joint venture between Sure Step, who owned the patent, and a foot orthotic lab who had the technical resources to do the cast modifications and brace fabrications.

What were some of the frustrations you experienced during the process?
The first prototypes were quite different from what we make today. We experimented with many designs, attempting to articulate a custom foot orthotic with an ankle brace. Our goal was to yield a comfortable and functional device; however, the early prototypes did not fit well. Getting a brace to both contour and control motion around the ankle malleoli is a daunting task.

Tell us about your “ah-ha” moments.
One breakthrough was learning that the custom upper part of the brace consistently had the same shape, regardless the size of the patient’s leg. We also learned that the contours of the lateral and medial border of the lower leg are very consistent among most patients. Because of this, we can provide a comfortable and functional shape of the leg uprights every time.

These initial prototypes fit well, but when we started fitting pathologic feet, such as PTTD patients, we had to make adjustments for the severe deformity and collapse of the foot. We modified casting and fabrication techniques. We did a full year of clinical testing on over 100 patients until we were comfortable releasing the brace to the profession.  

In our next post, Dr. Richie will talk about how his idea of a sports brace took an unusual turn.

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