The benefits of most of the tools that physical therapists use are easy to see. It’s obvious that stretching and strengthening exercises are intended to, well, stretch and strengthen a child’s muscles, and it’s often easy to see an immediate positive change in a child’s ambulation when he gets a new pair of ankle-foot orthotics (AFOs).
But what about night splints?
It’s often more difficult for parents to see the benefit of an item that is worn while a child is sleeping – especially one that seems to the adult eye to be uncomfortable and inconvenient. Here are three reasons why night splints may be the way to go:
1. Stretching and strengthening may not be enough to stem the tide of a contracture. For children with spastic cerebral palsy, high tone is a constant, and night splints are used to increase the amount of time each day that the muscles are stretched, helping to fight against contractures.
2. Children are most relaxed while sleeping. The tenser someone is, the more difficult it is to get a good stretch. Night splints can take advantage of nighttime to encourage an increase in range. Since night splints also don’t have to do double-duty as ambulation devices, they can be designed to “push the envelope” a bit more with stretching than a daytime AFO, and some can even be adjusted to take advantage of improved range.
3. Children – especially young children – are restless and don’t always want to sit still for stretching. While we adults may not mind, and may even enjoy, holding a passive stretch, children are (at best) bored and (at worst) complain about the pain. Night splints allow prolonged passive stretches without worrying about keeping a child still and compliant.
It’s important to understand that for some children, night splints can be an effective complement to daytime stretching, strengthening, and AFOs, and while they look seem uncomfortable to us, kids are resilient and usually adapt pretty quickly to the addition of night splints.
Photo Courtesy Peter Stevens/Flickr