broken a bone
before or you know a kid who has. Kids (and adults) need to wear a
cast or splint if they
(break) a bone. They're sometimes used after surgery, too. It
isn't fun to get injured, but it's important to take care
of a cast or splint until it's time to get it removed.
What Are Casts and Splints?
Think of a
as a big bandage that has two layers. There is a soft cotton layer
that rests against the
and a hard outer layer that prevents the broken
from moving. The outer layer is usually made of plaster or
Plaster casts are usually white and made from
plaster of paris
, which you may have used for school art projects. Plaster of paris
is a heavy white powder. When it's mixed with water, it forms a
thick paste that hardens quickly.
Fiberglass casts are made of
, which is a plastic that can be shaped. Fiberglass casts come in
many different colors - if you're lucky, the
may let you pick the color! These casts are lighter and stronger
than plaster casts.
Some casts are waterproof, but most are not. With a plaster of
paris cast or a fiberglass one, you'll need to keep it from
getting wet. That means using a plastic bag or special sleeve to
protect it in the bath or shower.
does the same thing as a cast: It keeps the bone from moving so it
can heal. It also usually has a soft layer of cotton inside. A
splint can be made from the same materials as a cast or may be a
pre-made piece of stiff plastic or metal surrounded by strong
fabric. It is like a half cast that's wrapped with an elastic
bandage or held in place with Velcro straps. A splint is a good
choice for some injuries, especially if the injured area is
swollen. Like casts, splints should be kept dry.
remove your splint unless your doctor says it's okay.
If you've broken your leg, you'll probably get crutches
to help you walk. If the cast or splint is on your arm, the doctor
might give you a sling to help support it. A sling is made of cloth
and a strap that loops around the back of your neck. It acts like a
special sleeve to keep your arm comfortable and in place.
Why Do Kids Need Casts and Splints?
When you break a bone - whether it's because you fell off
your skateboard or tripped down the stairs - moving the broken area
. Moving the bone around also can prevent it from healing
Your doctor will want to put the pieces of your broken bone in
the right position so they can grow back together into one bone.
The cast or splint goes around the injured area to keep the pieces
in place. Most kids with broken bones say that their injury feels
much better once the cast is on. Depending on the type of injury,
you'll probably have to wear the cast for a few weeks or
How Does the Doctor Put on a Cast or Splint?
First, the doctor (or another person who is trained to put on
casts) wraps several layers of soft cotton around the injured area.
Next, the plaster or fiberglass outer layer is soaked in water. The
doctor wraps the plaster or fiberglass around the soft first layer.
The outer layer is wet, and the cast might feel heavy until it
dries. Doctors sometimes make tiny cuts in the sides of a cast to
allow room for swelling (puffiness).
When a doctor puts on a splint, a layer of cotton goes on first.
Next, the splint is placed over the cotton. Then an elastic bandage
is loosely wrapped around the splint - or if a pre-made splint is
used, straps (which usually have Velcro) keep the splint in place.
The doctor might need to readjust the splint later, or you and your
parent might get instructions on how to do it at home.
The doctor will probably tell you to put the splinted or casted
area of your body up for a few days to help reduce swelling. And if
you have a cast on your foot or leg called a "walking
cast," you shouldn't walk on it until it's dry.
Fiberglass dries quickly but it may take 2 or 3 days for a plaster
cast to be hard enough to use.
Taking Care of Casts and Splints
Keep it dry:
Many casts and splints are
waterproof, so keeping it dry is very important. Your doctor may
tell you to cover it with a plastic bag while you shower or you can
get a special waterproof sleeve to cover it. Depending on where
your cast or splint is on your body, you may have to take a sponge
bath. This means that instead of getting all wet in the tub or
shower, you just use a wet sponge or cloth to clean yourself.
If your cast or splint isn't waterproof and it gets wet, it
may lose its strength and no longer be able to keep the injured
bone in place. Once it gets wet, the cotton padding inside the cast
is slow to dry. Having a wet cast can cause a
. If your cast or splint gets wet, tell a parent so your doctor can
Keep an eye out for problems:
Also tell a parent right away if your cast gets any cracks. This
can happen if it's hit or crushed, has a weak spot, or if the
injured area begins to swell underneath. Your parent will call the
If you notice the cast is causing your fingers or toes to turn
white, purple, or blue, tell a parent right away. If it's too
tight, the doctor will want to change it. Also, tell a parent if
the skin around the edges of the cast gets red or raw.
Keep yourself comfortable:
Even if the skin under the cast or splint gets itchy, don't put
anything inside to scratch the skin. Don't squirt baby powder,
cream, or anything else inside to try to soothe the itch. Try this
neat trick instead: Use a blow dryer set on "cool" to
blow air inside. It really stops the itch!
Keep it fun:
Broken bones aren't fun, but at least your family and friends
can sign your cast. It won't hurt your cast to have people
autograph it. Permanent markers usually work best; washable ones
can smear. Feel free to draw pictures on it or decorate your cast
How Does the Doctor Remove a Cast or Splint?
A splint is easy to remove - the doctor just unwraps the
bandages or undoes the Velcro and it's off!
To remove casts, doctors saw off the outer shell with a special
saw. The saw is loud like a vacuum cleaner, but you don't need
to be nervous. This saw's blade won't hurt you. The person
removing your cast may demonstrate this by letting the saw rub
right against his or her skin. The saw has a dull, round blade that
vibrates up and down. The vibration is strong enough to break apart
the fiberglass or plaster, but it can't hurt your skin. It may
Sometimes your doctor will let you keep your cast or splint as a
souvenir - all you have to do is ask. You can look at it in the
future, read what your friends wrote on it, and remember how your
broken bone got better!
Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: October 2007
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice,
diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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