During my sophomore year of high school, I began experiencing issues with leg spasms due to a then-undiagnosed brain condition (later diagnosed as Chiari Malformation). The treatment for the leg spasms involved me wearing a knee immobilizing brace that kept my leg completely straight for a few hours a day, and I quickly had to learn about navigating high school with a leg brace, as I had to wear my brace at school often to manage the pain. Here are my tips for navigating high school with a single leg brace. While my experiences are related to managing my chronic condition, these tips are also great for students who have a torn ACL, arthritis, or other short term leg injury.
Ask for extra time to get to classes
I had permission to leave my classes one minute early and arrive up to two minutes late without penalty, as crowded hallways are more difficult to navigate with a leg brace. This was especially helpful for getting to lunch or for classes that were on the other side of the school. At my second high school, two of my best friends often served as a human guide/assistant and helped me carry things as needed. They had permission from their teachers to leave early/show up late if they were helping me, and would take turns helping me to different classes.
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- How To Be An Effective Human Guide For People With Vision Loss
Have a way to elevate your leg during class
With the knee immobilizing brace, it’s difficult to sit down comfortably because I can’t bend my knee. While I normally take off my brace when sitting down, there are times where I have to keep the brace on, so it helps to have a way to elevate my leg during class. I typically would rest my leg on top of my rolling backpack, an exercise ball, or another chair that was in front of my desk, and make sure that my leg wasn’t a tripping hazard for other students. It helps to have a student choose where to sit so that they can figure out the best place for them to elevate their leg, or to choose an alternative desk setup such as a large table.
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Get permission to use school elevators
While my high school did not have elevators, I’ve visited other high schools on school trips that were multiple floors, and it was tiring to try and walk up and down the stairs or use ramps in the back of the school. In these situations, I got permission from the school to use the faculty elevators while accompanied by another student or staff member. For students who attend schools with multiple floors, the principal, guidance counselor, or case manager can provide more guidance about using elevators to get to classes or other areas of the school.
Storing the brace when not in use
As mentioned, I don’t use my brace for the entirety of the school day or while sitting down. Leaving my brace on the floor is not a great option because it can get dirty quickly or slide across the floor, so there are a few different options for storing a leg brace when not in use:
- Storing the brace in a backpack or tote bag
- Placing the brace in a locker
- Asking the teacher to put the brace behind their desk
- Resting the brace in your lap
- Choosing A Backpack With Chronic Pain
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Get assistance with getting on/off the school bus
For students who take the bus, I cannot emphasize the importance of getting assistance with getting on and off the school bus- my leg brace caused me to lose my balance, fall off a school bus, and break my ankle in several places when I tried to get off a school bus unassisted. Typically I would hold onto the hand of a friend or my brother (when we attended the same school) to get off the bus, or use an accessible ramp. Many schools will also provide accessible buses for students who have difficulty getting on and off the bus due to a disability or injury, though I have never used these.
If relevant, ask about adaptive PE
For students who are taking gym classes, adaptive PE is an option that allows students to complete physical education requirements in a way that modifies activities according to a student’s physical limitations. For example, instead of having to run or do other activities that require a lot of walking, students will complete other activities that involve sitting or more gentle forms of movement. Adaptive PE is not connected with health education requirements, so students will still have to take health classes.
Use the bathroom in the nurse’s office, or ask about faculty bathrooms
I had trouble using the handicap/accessible bathroom stalls in many of the school bathrooms because they were often in use when I needed them, or were not large enough to accommodate my leg brace. Because of this, I received permission from the school nurse to use either the larger bathroom in the nurse’s office or the single stall faculty bathrooms, as they were easier for me to access. Since these were further from some of my classes than the student bathrooms, my teachers gave me untimed hall passes so I didn’t have a strict time limit for being out of the classroom.
Other tips for navigating high school with a leg brace
- For students who have trouble sitting, ask to use a different chair in the classroom, i.e one with a higher back like the ones used in music classrooms
- Follow instructions from the doctor/physical therapist about wearing a leg brace and how to elevate it
- Wear shoes with good traction to avoid slipping- I list my favorite shoe adaptations in My Favorite Shoes For Chiari Malformation
- Students are not allowed to carry pain medication, this will have to be stored in the nurse’s office