Casts and splints may seem like a nuisance, but they're a key part of the healing process. To keep them working as they should (and avoid a longer healing time), they need proper care.
Here are some cast facts, as well as tips on taking care of a cast until it's time to have it removed.
All casts and splints serve essentially the same purpose:
The difference between casts and splints is the material used to make them and the reasons why each is used.
Doctors use splints for minor fractures and for newly broken bones if the area around the injury is swollen. When there's swelling, splints are a better choice than casts because a cast can get too tight and affect a person's circulation.
Doctors will usually replace a splint on a broken bone with a cast after the swelling has gone down. The stronger, closed cast will provide more protection during the time it takes for a broken bone to knit back together.
Casts are sort of like big, stiff bandages with two layers. The inside layer, which rests against the skin, is made of soft cotton. The hard outer layer prevents a broken bone from moving. It's usually made from one of two materials:
If a person needs a cast that goes around the foot, doctors may use a "walking cast."
A splint is like a partial cast — a section of hard material that's held in place with an elastic bandage or Velcro straps. Like casts, splints usually have a soft cotton layer inside. The outer layer of a splint can be made from the same materials as a cast or it can be a pre-made piece of stiff metal or plastic surrounded by strong fabric.
If you need a cast, here's what to expect:
The process is similar for splints:
When a cast or splint is first put on, the doctor might tell you to keep your injured limb elevated as much as possible for the first few days. This helps reduce swelling. If you're using a "walking cast" on your foot or leg, you'll need to avoid walking on it until the plaster or fiberglass used to make it is completely dry.
Casts and splints need to stay in good shape in order to do their jobs properly and allow bones to heal the way they should.
Follow these tips to help keep your cast or splint as strong and as comfortable as possible while you have it on:
Get in touch with your doctor if you notice any of these things:
Once your limb has healed and the doctor says it's OK, a technician or doctor will remove the cast using a special saw. The saw's blade is dull. It's the vibrations that break the cast, not the blade, so it can't hurt your skin. Never try to remove a cast on your own. You could end up re-injuring yourself (and needing a new cast just when you thought it was all over).
Your skin may look and feel a little weird when your limb comes out of the cast. It might be dry, flaky, or scaly, and the hair might look thicker and darker than usual. Your muscles might also appear smaller and thinner. This is all normal and temporary.
You'll need to take it easy and maybe do some exercises to get your limb back in shape, but before too long everything should be back to the way it used to be.
Reviewed by: Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph
Date reviewed: September 2011
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