First of all – What is a night splint?
A night splint is a device that stretches your calf and foot while you sleep. They are typically made from a hard plastic shell with some type of foam to add comfort and fit. Some splints have adjustable Velcro straps to change tension and the angle of stretching your foot and calf. (Insert picture of night splint)
What are they used for?
Typically they are prescribed to patients suffering from one of the following:
(Insert picture of foot with stars on areas below)
- Plantar Fasciitis
- Achilles Tendon Issues
- Metatarsal Stress Fractures
- Metatarsal Head Issues (Forefoot Issues)
- Tight Calf muscles
How does it work?
A night splint works to passively lengthen the muscles, tendons, and fascia of the bottom of your foot and calf muscles. The abovementioned issues are all under the greatest stress at the exact moment you push off your foot whether walking, running, jumping, or skipping. There is also a great stress on these structures if you are landing on your forefoot.
In the gait cycle it is called ‘toe-off’ when you push off one foot (Insert picture) as you swing your other leg forward to move forward. While we sleep we point our toes down away from our head. This position keeps the bottom of the foot and calf in a shortened and tightened position. A night splint works to passively lengthen the muscles, tendons, and fascia of the bottom of the foot and calf.
Just imagine allowing a muscle that heals in a shortened version and when you go to use it too aggressively (at the end range of it’s capability and length with full force) you’ll most likely reinjure or strain that muscle. (insert ref. to study lengthening muscles etc.)
Insert: How it works… Video
Insert video on how it works: (demo how it works. For any forefoot strikers I recommend to patients changing their foot strike to a mid or heel strike until your issues resolve. An easy way to think of it would be to shorten your stride length by 10% and you will most likely be changing your foot strike pattern.
Start out slowly and don’t over stretch. Some runners can get a paradoxical lengthening of an Achilles tendon if done too aggressively and will ‘lengthen it” by creating small tears and thus further weakening of the Achilles Tendon which basically can stop someone from running completely!
(Insert: It would be great to have a picture of bubble gum being stretched out with some holes starting to develop or even a video….)
Start with your foot and lower leg at a 90 degree angle. If you can’t tolerate it for the entire time you sleep then you can re-adjust and loosen the degree and tension. Start out slowly and do not over stretch. This device is helpful in the recovery process BUT it’s not the only thing that should be done. There are some great manual soft-tissue approaches that can help expedite the recovery time and function of your foot and calf. Also rehabilitative exercises (strengthening exercises) are necessary in your full recovery to help prevent a reoccurrence of the same injury.
Which one do you recommend?
I don’t have a particular brand but I do recommend certain characteristics. I look for one with Velcro straps and a toe wedge. If it doesn’t have a toe wedge a facecloth can be rolled up and placed under the toes for a better stretch. I also like one that can be used for both sides (just in case).
The Velcro straps are used to adjust and change the degree and intensity of the stretch. You may find yourself waking up in the middle of the night with a ‘burning’ foot because you are constantly pushing against the night splint. Just lessen the tension and still try to wear the splint. It may take a little while to get use to the device. Start out slowly and never over stretch – this should device should not be painful.
If you want to save a little money here are some alternatives to a night splint.
- Loosen your sheets on the bed.
- Sleeping position MATTERS! Sleeping on your stomach is the worst. Your side or back is best.
- Scoot down to the bottom of your bed and put your feet on the board (if you have one) – this will keep your foot in a 90 degree position.
- Or turn around and put your feet on the wall or headboard.
These alternatives are less effective and more difficult to maintain a passive stretch but anything is better than nothing – right? I once had a ‘creative’ northeasterner suggest a ski boot. After I laughed, I told him it would definitely do the trick but I told him that I’m not responsible for how his wife would react to it.
I hope this information was helpful in understanding why such a simple device can help with your nagging injuries.
Yours in Health,
Michael Carey, DC
Restoring, Maintaining & Optimizing Your Health
Disclaimer: If you are not a patient of Carey Chiropractic please consult your healthcare professional regarding an appropriate evaluation, diagnosis, and management of your issues (which may include the use of a night splint).