After you break a bone, your doctor may apply a cast or a splint to support and protect the injured bone(s) throughout the healing process. Both forms of support work to hold the bones in place while they mend, while also reducing pain and swelling.
Casts are customized to fit the shape of the injured area to provide the best support, and can be made from either fiberglass or plaster. While fiberglass is lighter in weight and x-rays can see through it more easily, plaster is much easier to shape to fit your limbs. No matter the material, all casts also have a protective layer of cotton padding to provide ample comfort for the skin. A trained cast technician will work with each patient to create a custom cast or splint.
Splints can be custom-made, but physicians will often recommend ready-made splints of a variety of shapes and sizes. These splints are easier to put on, take off and adjust as instructed by your doctor.
It may take some time to get used to your cast or splint, but remain patient. Some minimal pressure due to swelling is common within the first 72 hours, and may cause slight discomfort within your cast or splint. There are ways to minimize swelling, which in turn will lessen pain and help your injury heal. Elevating the injured area is crucial within the first 72 hours. Moving the uninjured areas around your broken bone will keep blood flowing throughout the area, while removing stiffness. Applying ice atop the cast or splint can also work to reduce swelling. Ask your physician what to expect with your specific type of injury and cast or splint. Your doctor and cast technician will inform you what moderate levels of discomfort are normal, and what levels of pain, numbness or discomfort are signs that you should come in to have the cast removed and redone.
If you experience increased pain, heavy numbness, stinging and burning, excessive swelling and/or loss of movement, it’s important to contact your doctor immediately.
Keeping your cast in good condition will help smooth the road to recovery. Keep it dry and clean, avoiding dirt, sand and powder. Do not remove the padding or break off any rough edges around the cast. Do not stick objects inside your cast to itch your skin, and inspect the skin to ensure it’s not raw or red from the cast. Never remove the cast yourself. Most importantly, follow your doctor’s instructions carefully.
If you or a loved one has a broken bone, visit any of our five clinics on weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. without an appointment. If it’s during the evening on Monday through Thursday before 8 p.m., or on Saturday morning, visit one of our After Hours clinics. If your broken bone is compound (visibly sticking through your skin), please visit an emergency room for immediate treatment.
This blog post was adapted from AAOS.