Oh-m’God-It’s-a miracle: Night Splints
A night splint wraps on the calf, with a foot portion that holds the foot at an angle similar to that of one standing or, to the extent one wants to tighten it, at the angle of the “dorsiflexion stretch recommended in our Stretching section.
“The idea of night splints is to hold the plantar fascia in the lengthened, stretched position,” says Dr. John Wilson, a faculty member in the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, and a team physician for the University of Wisconsin Athletic Department.
“Most people sleep with their toes pointed, even curled, and that puts the plantar fascia in a contracted position,” he says. “The night splint is aimed at counteracting that contraction.”
The most painful step of the day for plantar fasciitis suffers is usually that first step out of bed in the morning. That’s because the plantar fascia have been contracted during the night. A night splint, however, always leaves people amazed by that Omigod-It’s-A-Miracle morning moment of stepping to the floor pain free. By preventing that pain and damage at the beginning of the day, and as a means of making a stretch last all night instead of just 30 seconds on the edge of the bed, a night splint is a powerful tool in the plantar fasciitis self cure.
“Night splints are definitely recommended,” says Dr. Mark Vann, assistant professor of orthopedic surgery at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston,Texas. “Compliance is the main issue. A lot of people won’t wear it.”
During my efforts at plantar fasciitis self-cure, I bought an inexpensive “Ace” brand “Plantar Fasciitis Foot Sleep Support” at Walgreens and strapped it on before bed. In the morning, I had the sensation of having been the benefactor of a miracle, stepping to the floor and feeling absolutely no heel pain.
After conversations with some more experts, though, I found out about the benefits of the plantar fascia stretch or “dorsiflexion” stretch described in the Stretching page of this site.
I decided to try the kind of night splint known generically as a Strassburg sock, and bought a Good Feet brand Strassburg sock. Strassburg socks have a connection, typically a tube of cloth or other knit material, from the toes to the shin, pulling the toes closer to the shin, more specifically stretching the plantar fascia.
Any night splint feels cumbersome and awkward to wear in bed. As compared with the Strassburg sock, the Ace brand “Foot Sleep Support” has thicker and more rigid portions on the calf and foot, giving the sensation of sleeping with a boot on. As one who sleeps with a wool blanket and not a sheet, I also found it troublesome when the Velcro straps on calf and foot kept catching on the wool.
The Strasburg sock is just that, a sock, with no rigid components. It also has Velcro to hold it on the calf, and to secure the connection between calf and toes, but slips more smoothly under the blankets. However, some may have discomfort from having their toes pulled up all night. (You do have to keep your toenails short so they won’t catch. Eew.) Some may not have a problem with such things, of course, and may place greater value on the advantages of one over the other – and the miraculous relief that a night splint can provide.
That is, if you don’t have a problem with “compliance,” as Dr. Vann puts it. Like any of the self-cure measures for plantar fasciitis, your rate of improvement depends on how compliant you are to the measures you need to take.