Cast Care Tips

Topic Overview

When you first get your cast

A cast protects a broken bone or other injury. Most casts are made of fiberglass, but plaster casts are still sometimes used.

After a cast is on, you can't remove it yourself. Your doctor will take it off.

Putting weight on your cast

Follow your doctor's instructions for when you can first put weight on the cast. Fiberglass casts dry quickly and are soon ready to bear weight. But plaster casts may take several days before they are hard enough to use.

When it's okay to put weight on your cast, do not stand or walk on it unless it is designed for walking.

Swelling

Your cast may feel snug for a few days after your surgery or injury. This is usually because of swelling. Swelling can slow healing and cause pain. Too much swelling inside the cast can cause pressure that can harm you.

To help reduce swelling:

  • Prop up the injured arm or leg on a pillow as much as you can when you sit or lie down. Try to keep it above the level of your heart.
  • If the fingers or toes on the limb with the cast were not injured, wiggle them every now and then. This helps move the blood and fluids in the injured limb.
  • Take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). These can help reduce swelling and pain. Be safe with medicines. Be sure to follow all instructions on the label.

Water and your cast

  • Do not get your cast wet unless you have a fiberglass cast with a quick-drying lining.
  • Keep your cast covered with at least two layers of plastic when you take a shower or bath or when you have any other contact with water. Moisture can collect under the cast and cause skin irritation and itching. It can make infection more likely if you have had surgery or have a wound under the cast.
  • If you have a fiberglass cast with a fast-drying lining, make sure to rinse it with fresh water after you swim. It will take about an hour for the lining to dry.

Cast and skin care

  • Try blowing cool air from a hair dryer or fan into the cast to help relieve itching. Never stick items under your cast to scratch the skin.
  • Don't use oils or lotions near your cast. If the skin gets red or irritated around the edge of the cast, you may pad the edges with a soft material or use tape to cover the edges. Call your doctor if you think you have a skin infection.
  • Keep up your muscle strength and tone as much as you can while protecting your injured limb or joint. Your doctor may want you to tense and relax the muscles protected by the cast. Check with your doctor or physical therapist for instructions.
  • Watch for pressure sores. These can form over bony areas. Symptoms include a warm spot under the cast, pain, drainage, or an odor. Call your doctor if you think you have a pressure sore.
  • Watch for compartment syndrome. This happens when pressure builds up in a group of muscles, nerves, and blood vessels. It is an emergency. Symptoms include severe pain or tingling or numbness.

When to call

Call your doctor right away if:

  • You have increased or severe pain.
  • You feel a warm or painful spot under the cast.
  • You have problems with your cast. For example:
    • The skin under the cast burns or stings.
    • The cast feels too tight.
    • There is a lot of swelling near the cast. (Some swelling is normal.)
    • You have a new fever.
    • There is drainage or a bad smell coming from the cast.
  • Your foot or hand is cool or pale or changes color.
  • You have trouble moving your fingers or toes.
  • You have symptoms of a blood clot in your arm or leg. (This is called a deep vein thrombosis.) Symptoms may include:
    • Pain in the arm, calf, back of the knee, thigh, or groin.
    • Redness and swelling in the arm, leg, or groin.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • The cast is breaking apart.
  • You are not getting better as expected.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Current as of June 4, 2014

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