First let’s discuss the history of the night splint and how the night splint works to treat the pain associated with plantar fasciitis. Back in the “days of yore” heel pain or plantar fasciitis was frequently treated with immobilization in a walking cast. This facilitated placing the plantar fascia at rest on a 24/7 basis. The cast also served to re-distribute pressure away from the heel to other structures in the foot, ankle and calf. My first hand research has indicated that the first consistent use of the night splint concept was started at Thomas Jefferson University Medical Center somewhere around 1989 to 1990. The oral history is that Dr. Keith Wapner, yes related to that Judge Wapner, offered a cast to treat the plantar fasciitis of one of his orthopaedic residents. The resident balked at having to wear a cast thereby leading Dr. Wapner to offer the resident the use of a molded plaster splint that he would wear at night. Well needless to say the rest is history. The morning pain and other pain associated with the resident’s plantar fasciitis went adios. However, ultimately Dr. Wapner found that patients did not much like to wear a heavy plaster splint to bed. Sometimes the splint would crack, scratch the other leg or was just too heavy and bulky. This spawned the development of numerous prefabricated splint designs to make a more durable and hopefully more comfortable splint. We will talk about the different types of splint at another time.
We started by saying “Did you know that night splints can also be worn during the day.” One of the hallmarks of plantar fasciitis is pain after periods of rest or after periods of inactivity. For some of us the longest period of inactivity is at night while we are sleeping. Our foot is generally plantar flexed or pointing down and this relaxes the plantar fascia. When we get up in the morning, uh oh, there is pain with our first few steps as we try to stretch out the plantar fascia. You could possibly skip using the night splint throughout the night if you are willing to set your alarm 10-15 minutes early and use a towel to stretch your plantar fascia. Otherwise, wearing the night splint should do the trick. However, the night splint might come in handy after a long day at work or just a busy day in general. You might finish dinner and read a book, watch You Tube or spend hours playing Grand Theft Auto. When you get up you might experience pain similar to what you felt in the morning. The night splint might be very helpful to wear in this instance too. The night splint might also be worn on long plane, car or bus rides. You may even want to take it to the opera too. If you still remain athletically active during the treatment of your plantar fasciitis we would encourage you to wear it for 10 to 15 minutes at the completion of your sporting activity. You might also want to add a bag of ice to your heel while wearing the splint. The night splint should probably be called the “anytime splint.”