Cast Care Introduction
- The function of a cast is to rigidly protect and immobilize an injured bone or joint. It serves to hold the broken bone in proper alignment to prevent it from moving while it heals.
- Casts may also be used to help rest a bone or joint to relieve pain that is caused by moving it (such as when a severe sprain occurs, but no broken bones).
- Different types of casts and splints are available, depending on the reason for the immobilization and/or the type of fracture.
- Casts are usually made of either plaster or fiberglass material.
Fracture Types and Healing
- A fractured bone is the same as a broken bone. Most fractures happen because of a single and sudden injury. Fractures are usually diagnosed by X-ray (even when a fracture is apparent on physical exam, an X-ray helps confirm the fracture and establish its severity and the bones involved ).
- A simple (or closed) fracture has intact skin over the broken bone.
- An open fracture is also called a compound fracture. This means that a cut or wound exists on the skin near the broken bone. If the cut is very severe, the edges of the bone may be seen coming out from the wound.
- A stress fracture can result from many repeated small stresses on a bone. Microscopic fractures form and, if not given time to heal, can join to form a stress fracture. These types of fractures are usually seen in athletes or soldiers who perform repetitive vigorous activities.
- A pathologic fracture happens with minimal or no apparent injury to an abnormal bone. This is usually caused by an underlying weakness or problem with the bone itself, such as osteoporosis or a tumor.
- When a bone is fractured, it may require a reduction (realignment) to put the ends of the fracture back into place. A doctor will do this by moving the fractured bone into alignment with his or her hands. If a bone has a fracture but is not out of position or deformed, no reduction is necessary. This reduction can be performed in the emergency department, a doctor's office or, if the reduction is complicated, might even occur in the operating room.
- Once the ends of the bone are aligned, the injured bone requires support and protection while it heals. A cast or splint usually provides this support and protection.
- Many factors affect the rate at which a fracture heals and the amount of time a person needs to wear a cast. Ask your doctor how much time the specific fracture will take to heal.
Last Reviewed 11/20/2017
Jennifer L Brown, MD, FACEP
Scott H Plantz, MD, FAAEM
Francisco Talavera, PharmD, PhD
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