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Cast Care

What is a cast?

A cast is a supportive structure that surrounds an injured body part to protect it, keep it from moving, and allow it to heal. Casts are made of fiberglass or plaster. They are most often used for broken bones. They are also used sometimes for torn ligaments or tendons and may be used after surgery.

How is a cast put on?

Your healthcare provider will first place padding around your injured body part. Casting material is then rolled like a bandage over the padding. While the casting material hardens, it will feel warm.

How is a cast removed?

Your healthcare provider will remove the cast with a special cast saw. The saw is designed so that it will not cut your skin. The cast should be removed only by your provider.

How long will I need to wear my cast?

How long you wear your cast depends on your injury. Some injuries heal within a few weeks and some take several months.

How can I take care of myself?

Pain and swelling: Take acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or medicine prescribed by your provider while you are in pain. You should raise your leg or arm above the level of your heart to reduce swelling. If your leg is in a cast, sit or lie down and put pillows under your leg to keep it elevated for the first 24 hours. If your provider has given you a sling for your arm, wear it to keep the injured part elevated. Wiggling your fingers and toes can also reduce swelling.

Keep your cast dry: Most casts should not get wet. A plaster cast will fall apart if it gets wet. A fiberglass cast won't fall apart but the padding underneath may start to smell if it gets wet. Wet padding may also hurt your skin. You may bathe using a wet washcloth, rather than taking a shower or bath. If you are going to be exposed to water, even rain, you need to protect your cast from getting wet. You can use a plastic bag held in place with a rubber band. If your cast does get wet, you may be able to dry it with a hair dryer set on a cool setting. In some cases you may be able to have a special cast and liner that allow you to get the cast wet and even swim.

Itching: Many people have itching inside a cast. Never reach inside a cast with your fingernails or another object to scratch. It may injure your skin and cause an infection.

Activity: How active you can be depends on your injury. You should avoid riding a bike or playing most sports. You may be allowed to participate in certain sports with special padding around your cast. Your cast can break, so you should not use it to pound or hit objects. If you have a cast on your leg, you should not walk on it or put any body weight on it for the first 48 hours. The cast needs time to dry and become strong. If your provider wants you to use a walker or crutches, you should not put any weight on the injured leg at all. Ask your healthcare provider about what activities you can safely do.

After my cast is put on what problems should I watch for?

Contact your healthcare provider immediately if you have any of these problems.

Swelling: Signs of problem swelling include:

  • You have severe pain or pain that doesn’t go away.
  • Your fingers or toes feel numb or painful or can't move.
  • The color of your fingernails or toenails changes.

Infection: Sometimes the body part inside a cast becomes infected. Signs of infection include:

  • drainage from the skin under the cast
  • pain
  • fever
  • redness
  • bad smell under the cast

Cast fit: After a while the cast may not fit well. Call your healthcare provider if the cast feels too loose or too tight. Talk to your provider if the cast is damaged or weakened due to wear and tear.

Written by Pierre Rouzier, MD.
Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2011-08-08
Last reviewed: 2011-06-07
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2011 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.
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