Coping with a Cast and Tips for Your Cast Care
Having a cast is never fun - but the attention you receive with it can be, especially when people go out of their way to help you, give you gifts, and sign it. Their gestures of kindness may make you feel better. But physically, you may experience a lot of discomfort and pain.
A cast is needed for all sorts of injuries, like slipping on a toy and landing on your wrist wrong, crashing your bike or car, or falling off the jungle gym.
What Is a Cast, Really?
"Casts support your broken bones, torn ligaments or tendons, and soft tissue while your body heals itself. They are custom made to fit the injured area after your physician places your injured limb back into the right position," says Roy Tomasulo, orthopaedic technologist and associate practice manager at Penn Orthopaedics Exton
and Southern Chester County
Casts are made with plaster or fiberglass for the sturdiness to support your bones, torn ligaments or tendons, or other tissues as they heal. Underneath the shell of the cast is padding and cotton, which act as a protective layer for your skin. Some fiberglass casts are made to be waterproof — but be sure to double-check with your physician before getting your cast wet.
Surviving a Cast
Because bones, torn ligaments, tendons, and other tissues can take weeks or months to heal, you may be stuck with your cast for a while. Although the pain may ease after a few weeks, the discomfort - swelling, itchiness, or soreness - may last the entire time.
Here are 10 tips to survive life in a cast.
Coping With Swelling
You may experience swelling for the first 2 to 3 days after getting a cast. If this happens, your skin will feel snug within the cast.
1. Elevate it: Elevating your injured limb for the first 24 to 72 hours can reduce swelling. Use a pillow to prop your limb above your heart to help your blood circulate back to your heart better.
2. Keep moving: Carefully and frequently moving your uninjured toes or fingers on your injured leg or arm frequently can reduce stiffness.
3. Ice it: Applying ice with a dry ziplock bag over your cast while your limb is elevated can also help with swelling. It may sound weird to put ice on a cast, but it just may work. Make sure to loosely wrap the ice around your cast on top of the injured area, and make sure it covers as much of the injured area as possible to provide the most relief. Be careful not to let the ice leak or drip onto the cast, and only apply ice for 15 to 30 minutes at a time.
Coping With Itchiness and Skin Irritation
Itchiness is a common nuisance when you have a cast. While it may be tempting to stick something down the cast to relieve that itch, there are safer ways to cope.
Keep it dry: If you get your cast wet, your limb may become itchy or irritated. Take extra precautions to keep your cast dry around water, such as during a shower or bath. Exposure to water can damage the cast. If your cast does get wet, you can try to dry it out with a blowdryer on the cool setting.
5. Don't put anything in the cast: Don't stick items - such as hangers - in your cast in an attempt to ease the itchiness. This can cause soreness.
6. Keep the cast clean: Stay away from dirt, sand, and powders, which can make itching or skin irritation worse. If you have a waterproof cast, rinsing the area with clean, cool water after excessive sweating can prevent sores and itchiness from developing. Allow the water to drain once the area is soothed.
7. Blow-dry it: Don't use hangers, butter knives, and other thin objects to scratch your skin within your cast. This can break your skin and cause irritation. Instead, use a blowdryer on the cool setting and aim it at the cast opening to relieve your itching. An alternative to the blowdryer is placing the casted limb in front of a fan.
Decorating Your Cast
8. Paint it: Using acrylic paints can be a non-toxic, safe way to decorate your cast. It allows you to create fun images to rock your cast in style.
9. Color it: Using markers is also another safe way to decorate your cast. People generally have family and friends sign well wishes on their cast with permanent markers to lift their spirits.
10. Cover it: Custom cast covers come in a variety of colors and materials and can make it easy to match your cast to your outfit. You can also make your own cast cover using materials you may already have around the house, like an old pair of leggings and some fabric paint.
Signs That Your Cast Needs to Be Replaced
Even if you are able to ease the discomfort, the temptation to remove the cast after a while may be strong. But patience is key.
"Never attempt to remove or trim your cast yourself - even if you're feeling better. This can weaken the cast, which could make your recovery take longer. You could also hurt yourself in the process," says Tomasulo.
If your cast becomes too uncomfortable, consult your physician about getting it replaced. Complications may also cause cast irritation. For instance, your cast may need to be replaced if you notice:
- A foul smell, which may be a sign of an infection
- Increased pain or a tight feeling after a few weeks, which may be swelling that isn't going away
- Numbness and tingling, which can mean there is too much pressure on your nerves
- Stinging or burning, which could mean there is too much pressure on your skin
- Excessive swelling in the part of your arm or leg that is below the cast, which could mean your blood is circulating too slowly
- Bleeding from the skin underneath cast, which means the skin has broken
Also, see your physician right away if you lose the ability to move your fingers and toes.
Being in a cast doesn't have to feel like a life sentence. Following the instructions provided to you by your health care provider can make your healing process much easier. When you allow your injury to heal without complications - you save yourself a hassle in the long run.
If you need a consultation for your cast care, contact your health care provider or visit the Find a Doctor
section of our website.