Your orthopedic doctor has assessed your injury and decided that a cast is the best treatment option…now what? Casts are used to protect and immobilize bones and joints in order to support injured limbs while they heal. Although casts can feel awkward at first, they play a big role in how fast your injury can heal. Here’s what to expect from your time spent in a cast.
If your injury is suspected to be a break or fracture, your doctor will usually order an x-ray to confirm the injury and determine the exact type and location of the injury. On some occasions, splints will be worn for a few days before the cast to reduce swelling, ensuring that your cast will provide the best fit. Splints are usually held in place by fabric fasteners, Velcro, or tape.
GETTING YOUR CAST
When it’s time to get your cast put on, you’ll be taken to our cast room where an orthopedic technician will put on the cast for you. Your cast will be made in four parts:
Sock – a soft sock will be placed on your limb first to help with itching and keep your cast smooth and edge-free.
Cotton Wrap – a cotton wrap will be placed over the sock to help with padding.
Casting Material – a casting material containing fiberglass is applied next. Once the material has been properly wrapped, the technician will need to mold the cast to your limb to ensure it has the best functionality and heals your limb correctly. With this step, you also get to choose a fun color for your cast!
CARING FOR YOUR CAST
It’s extremely important to keep your cast in good shape so it can do its job and your bones can heal properly. The way you treat your cast can play a big role in how quickly you heal. By following the cast care tips below, you can make this phase a little more pleasant.
Keep your cast dry. All casts are made primarily of plaster or fiberglass. A wet cast will become soft, and may not hold your limb in place. It can also cause infections and/or rashes. Bathe as directed by your physician and keep your cast out of the water. Covering your cast with plastic can help. If your cast gets damp, pat it dry with a towel. A hairdryer on the cool setting can also do the trick!
Keep foreign objects out. Never slide anything inside the cast or put lotions/powders inside the cast. To relieve itching, try raising the cast or changing positions. Air from a blow dryer on the cool setting also works.
Don’t alter the cast. Keeping your cast in good shape will ensure your cast does the best job possible at healing your bones. Do not cut the cast or pull it apart. Allowing friends and family to sign or decorate is okay!
Elevate and wiggle. Elevate the cast above your heart whenever possible to reduce swelling and help your injury heal. Wiggle your fingers or toes as much as you can to help with circulation.
CAST CAUTION SIGNS
Be sure to call the clinic if you develop any of the following symptoms:
- Pain or swelling, or inability to wiggle your fingers or toes.
- Your fingers or toes change color or tingle.
- The cast is too tight or loose, or has something stuck inside of it.
- Your cast becomes wet, cracked, dented, or has soft spots.
- You get a rash or chafing on the skin around the edge of your cast.
- You get a bad odor or itching that will not go away.
The first layer in a standard cast or splint is going to be a cotton stockinette. It’s kind of like a sock material. The next layer to the cast and splint is a cotton padding. That is wrapped around the extremity and then we’ll apply our splinting or casting material, so that’ll be either fiberglass or plaster, which is the exterior of the cast.
To care for your standard type cast you’ll need to keep it dry which means covering it for any kind of bathing, showering. We recommend a commercially available cast cover for that. If you did get a little bit of dampness inside the cast, a hairdryer could be used to dry it out, but if the cast is soaking wet, then it should be changed and the patient should contact us to do that.
Other things to consider, do not put anything down the cast for scratching or itching and then we want to make sure the patients are elevating to control the swelling. With an upper extremity that usually means fingers towards the ceiling. Opening and closing the hand is also helpful for controlling swelling. You should contact our office anytime you’re having an issue with the cast. We’re always happy to look at the cast or splint and evaluate any potential problems.
WHAT TO EXPECT AFTER CAST REMOVAL
Pain, Swelling, and Stiffness
After having a cast removed, it is normal to have some pain, stiffness, or limited range of motion. Being immobilized for weeks or months can cause your muscles and joints to weaken. Over-the-counter medications can be used for pain and swelling (ask your doctor which medication is right for you). Elevating the extremity, above the heart can also help to decrease swelling.
Your skin may also be flaky, discolored, or dry from being hidden under a cast. Start by gently washing with soap and water and moisturize with an alcohol-free lotion. It’s also important to avoid picking at the skin as it will cause further irritation. Dry skin can take a few days to a week to go back to normal.
When to Resume Activities
It’s important to speak with your doctor about when you can return to activities. It’s typically advised to refrain from running, jumping, or sports for a few days to a few weeks after removal. After that, you are usually able to return to activities as tolerated.