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night splints

The Quick Guide to Night Splints for Children

 

 

 

For many children who are idiopathic toe-walkers, physical therapists often take the conservative approach. We have many things in our arsenal to help children improve without undergoing costly and painful surgery. Outside of stretching and strengthening exercises, we might recommend ankle foot orthoses (AFOs) for day time and/or night time wear. Depending on the child’s range of motion measurements, walking mechanics, and underlying pathology, different types of orthotics might be recommended. We often work closely with orthotists (professionals who design medical supportive devices such as braces) to make sure each child receives the individualized care and equipment he needs to gain full function and optimal alignment.

Here are reasons why your physical therapist might have recommended night splints for your child:

  1. The main goals of physical therapy interventions for toe-walkers are to increase ankle dorsiflexion range of motion and to decrease possible contractures that are associated with the condition. Physical therapy exercise programs include stretching the calf muscles, strengthening the trunk muscles, manual therapy, treadmill training, balance training, and ankle mobility training. Sometimes, in stubborn cases of toe-walking, orthotics are needed to maintain the range of motion gained throughout daily exercise sessions.
  2.  If you’ve ever tried to stretch your pre-schooler’s muscles, you know that children can be active and fidgety. They don’t tolerate passive stretches as well as adults and might complain of boredom, pain, or ticklishness. The most effective stretches are those held for a prolonged period of time at a joint’s end range. Night splints allow for increased stretch time at the ankle joint, because the child is sleeping or resting when they are in place.
  3. The best time to gain range is when a child is relaxed. Since children relax more during sleep, even more range can be gained through passive stretching using a night time AFO.
  4. This is where the night-time splint comes in. While the daytime AFO is a rigid orthosis that keeps your child’s ankles from plantarflexing (pointing down) past neutral while he walks, the night time AFO is a much more dynamic system. Night splints can be adjusted as the ankles gain more range into dorsiflexion. They provide a low-load, prolonged-duration stretch that helps with contracture reduction and counters high tone.
  5. In the literature, night splints have been found to be effective for contractures at a variety of joints, and can be useful in brachial plexus injuries, cerebral palsy, and muscular dystrophy.

As pediatric physical therapists, we rarely recommend over-the-counter orthotics for your child’s orthopedic needs. By consulting with an orthotist, we make sure each child is fitted to the most comfortable and developmentally appropriate custom foot wear for his condition. Usually, children who adhere to a strict physical therapy program and who receive the right orthoses can see a complete change to their posture and gait mechanics in as short as 6 months’ time.

Click here to view our gross motor milestones infographic!

References:
Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. Evidence-based care guideline for management of idiopathic toe walking in children and young adults ages 2 through 21 years. Cincinnati (OH): Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center; 2011 Feb 15. 17 p. [49 references]

Toe Walkers Part 1: What are Reasons Children Toe Walk | Pediatric Therapy Tv

In today’s Webisode, a pediatric physical therapist explains why children may walk on their toes.

Learn more from this blog called “Is Toe Walking Normal?”

In this video you will learn:

  • How sensory input is related to toe walking
  • What is muscular dystrophy
  • What is idiopathic toe walking

Video Transcription:

Announcer: From Chicago’s leading experts in pediatrics to a worldwide audience, this is Pediatric Therapy TV, where we provide experience and innovation to maximize your child’s potential. Now, your host, here’s Robyn.

Robyn: Hello, and welcome to Pediatric Therapy TV. I’m your host, Robyn Ackerman, and I’m standing here today with Colleen Kearns, a Pediatric Physical Therapist. Colleen, can you give our viewers an explanation of why some children toe walk?

Colleen: Of course, Robyn. There are three main reasons why children may toe walk. The first one is related to sensory issues. Some children may actually be hypersensitive to certain textures on the floors that they are walking on, and the surfaces that they are walking on. So if that occurs, they may be more prone to walk on their toes to avoid those uncomfortable textures.

On the other hand, they may also be seeking extrasensory input. Maybe, some kids need a little bit more of the sensory input, and by walking on their toes they are locking their ankles and knees, and by doing that, they are actually getting more input from their joints. So that’s also why children with autism will walk on their toes, to get that extrasensory input.

The second main reason that children toe walk is due to an underlying diagnosis. Muscular dystrophy is a big one. That’s a genetic disorder where the muscle tissue is destroyed and it’s actually replaced by fat, and the calf muscles are often the first ones to be involved with that. So children with muscular dystrophy will toe walk in an effort to stabilize, due to the decreased strength. Any condition that results in an abnormal increase in muscle tone will also result in toe walking. A common one with that would be cerebral palsy.

The third reason why kids may toe walk is actually unknown. Some children, who don’t have an underlying diagnosis and don’t have sensory issues, just prefer to walk on their toes, and that’s what we call idiopathic toe walking, which means we just don’t know. Unfortunately, they can get into a very strong habit of doing it, and when they do that it results in a shortening of the muscles in their calf, and that actually makes it harder for the child to be able to get their foot flat on the ground. And when that happens, it’s kind of like a vicious cycle. They are more likely to be walking on their toes because they have a strong habit, then their muscles get shorter, then it’s harder for them to walk on their flat feet, so then they are even more prone to walking on their toes.

Robyn: All right. Well, thank you so much, and thank you to our viewers. And remember, keep on blossoming.

Announcer: This has been Pediatric Therapy TV, where we bring peace of mind to your family with the best in educational programming. To subscribe to our broadcast, read our blogs, or learn more, visit our website at learnmore.me. That’s Learnmore.me.