Casts and splints support and protect injured bones and soft tissue. When you break a bone, your doctor will put the pieces back together in the right position. Casts and splints hold the bones in place while they heal. They also reduce pain, swelling, and muscle spasm.
In some cases, splints and casts are applied following surgery.
Splints or “half-casts” provide less support than casts. However, splints can be adjusted to accommodate swelling from injuries easier than enclosed casts.
Casts are custom-made. They must fit the shape of your injured limb correctly to provide the best support. Casts can be made of plaster or fiberglass — a plastic that can be shaped.
Splints or half-casts can also be custom-made, especially if an exact fit is necessary. Other times, a ready-made splint will be used. These off-the-shelf splints are made in a variety of shapes and sizes, and are much easier and faster to use. They have Velcro straps which make the splints easy to put on, take off, and adjust.
Fiberglass or plaster materials form the hard supportive layer in splints and casts. Fiberglass is lighter in weight and stronger than plaster. In addition, x-rays can “see through” fiberglass better than through plaster which is important because your doctor will probably schedule additional x-rays after your splint or cast has been applied.
Plaster is less expensive than fiberglass and shapes better than fiberglass for some uses.
Taking care of your Casts and splints
You must follow your doctor’s instructions carefully to make sure your bone heals properly. After you have adjusted to your splint or cast for a few days, it is important to keep it in good condition. This will help your recovery.
- Keep your splint or cast dry. Moisture weakens plaster and damp padding next to the skin can cause irritation. Purchase waterproof shields to keep your splint or cast dry while you shower or bathe. Do not submerge it or hold it under running water as this can cause injury.
- Walking casts. Do not walk on a “walking cast” until it is completely dry and hard. It takes about one hour for fiberglass, and two to three days for plaster to become hard enough to walk on.
- Avoid dirt. Keep dirt, sand, and powder away from the inside of your splint or cast.
- Padding. Do not pull out the padding from your splint or cast.
- Itching. Do not stick objects such inside the splint or cast to scratch itching skin. Do not apply powders or deodorants to itching skin.
- Trimming. Do not break off rough edges of the cast or trim the cast before asking your doctor.
- Skin. Inspect the skin around the cast. If your skin becomes red or raw around the cast, contact your doctor.
- Inspect the cast regularly. If it becomes cracked or develops soft spots, contact your doctor’s office.
You are in Great Hands
Cast removal and warning signs
Swelling can create a lot of pressure under your cast. This can lead to problems. If you experience any of the following symptoms, contact your doctor’s office immediately for advice.
- Increased pain and the feeling that the splint or cast is too tight. This may be caused by swelling.
- Numbness and tingling in your hand or foot. This may be caused by too much pressure on the nerves.
- Burning and stinging. This may be caused by too much pressure on the skin.
- Excessive swelling below the cast. This may mean the cast is slowing your blood circulation.
- Loss of active movement of toes or fingers. This requires an urgent evaluation by your doctor.
Never remove the cast yourself. You may cut your skin or prevent proper healing of your injury.
Your doctor will use a cast saw to remove your cast. The saw vibrates, but does not rotate. If the blade of the saw touches the padding inside the hard shell of the cast, the padding will vibrate with the blade and will protect your skin.
Cast saws make noise and may feel “hot” from friction, but will not harm you.
If you do feel pain while the cast is being removed, let your doctor or an assistant know and they will be able to make adjustments.