The traditional plaster cast has been used since the early 1800s to hold broken bones in place while they heal. Little has changed in this particular material since then but a variety of other types of casting materials have evolved. If your doctor offers you a choice of one of these different products, here is what you can expect from each.
Plaster of Paris Casts
The first plaster casts required the patient to sit with their arm or leg in a box. The doctor filled the box around the limb with plaster and the patient waited for it to harden. Modern general orthopedics clinics use the same plaster, but no box is needed.
Strips of cotton material are coated with dry plaster and rolled up. The rolls are placed in water to activate the plaster. A layer of cotton material is first put over the arm or leg. When the plaster roll has become thoroughly wet, it is wrapped onto the limb and extended over the joints above and below the location of the fracture. As the plaster dries, the doctor uses their hands to mold the bandages, putting subtle pressure on the broken bones to keep them properly aligned.
Once the cast is completely dried, X-rays are taken to insure that the bones are in the correct alignment. If they aren't, the cast is cut off and a new cast is applied.
While this continues to be a preferred form of securing a fracture until it heals, some of the common problems with a plaster cast include:
This material also comes in rolls that are applied on the limb over a cotton sleeve. As the fiberglass cures, it is molded to the fracture much like plaster. Fiberglass is not as moldable as plaster so these casts tend to be used when the fracture is incomplete, meaning the break didn't go all the way through the bone. This cast may also be used after a plaster cast was initially applied and the fracture has nearly healed.
These casts are lighter than plaster and the fiberglass can get wet without being damaged. You still shouldn't get the cotton material underneath wet. Moisture is trapped underneath the cast causing skin irritation. Fiberglass casts are also brittle and can crack under pressure.
This is a plastic material that comes in rolls and is applied like the other casts. It is more moldable than fiberglass but still less than plaster. It can get wet, but the cotton material underneath still needs to be kept dry. It is lighter than plaster and fiberglass. This cast holds up to stress better than the other materials, flexing slightly under pressure instead of cracking or breaking.
Tests are being done on 3D printable polymer casts, notes Tech Crunch. These casts hold the fracture in place without needing to fully cover the limb. The material can get wet with little skin irritation. Scans are made of the person's limb to make a cast that is a custom-fit. While not generally available, these casts are being tested in teaching hospitals to evaluate their use.
If you have specific questions about an injury, make sure to contact a doctor with a practice like Burlington County Orthopaedic Specialist Pa.
My name is Shawna Banks and this is a blog that focuses on health issues that affect women. I became interested in women's health when my sister began having medical problems. After her condition worsened, she went to see a doctor. After her diagnosis and successful treatment, I helped her research the different kinds of health conditions that are common in women. By becoming knowledgeable about these types of problems, we can keep ourselves healthier. I hope that when you read this blog, it will help you to identify symptoms that shouldn't be ignored. If necessary, you can schedule an appointment with your physician as soon as possible.