The first week of summer vacation will soon be a reality for many people. Along with free time and summer activities comes the risk of bumps, bruises and broken bones.

If you or your child experiences a fracture, your primary care or orthopaedic provider may prescribe a cast to immobilize the bone above and/or below the joint nearest to the injury. Depending on the injury, your provider may order a cast made of plaster or fiberglass.

  • Fiberglass casts are lighter and stronger. If X-rays are needed during the healing process, the fiberglass material creates better images.
  • Plaster casts are less expensive and heavier. The main benefit of a plaster cast is the ability to mold it into a shape that offers better support for the injury.

In the future, your healthcare provider may use 3-D print technology to create a custom-fit cast. The lattice-type framework supports and protects the broken bone while exposing the skin around then injury. People who use 3-D casts usually can shower, which may decrease the itchy feeling many people experience with conventional casts.

If a cast is in your future for the next few weeks or months, keep these “Dos and Don’ts” in mind.

  1. Do elevate your broken bone above your heart. The cast stabilizes your bone by limiting movement, but it also may cause constriction if your injury swells. If your arm or leg swells inside your cast, it can cause excruciating pain, which may require another visit to your healthcare provider to have the cast split or replaced. Using a pillow to elevate your cast while sitting or sleeping can help you decrease this risk.
  2. Do take it easy. For the first few weeks after your fracture, you will want to take it easy and avoid bumping or using putting pressure on your fractured bone. 
  1. Do exercise with your doctor’s permission. If your arm or leg is in a cast, ask your provider when you can start moving the muscles near the broken bone. Movement helps circulation and future mobility.
  2. Do pay attention to odor. If your cast smells funky, rotten or moldy, make an appointment with your provider. A foul smell may be a sign of infection, or there may be a problem with your cast. 
  1. Do keep your cast clean. Keeping your cast clean can extend its life.
  1. Don’t ignore fever. If you have no other symptoms of illness, but you have a fever higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit, contact your provider. A high temperature may indicate an underlying condition that needs medical attention.
  1. Don’t ignore discomfort. If you experience paralysis, pain, increased swelling, tingling, numbness, burning or stinging, don’t ignore it. These are not “normal” signs of healing. Call your healthcare provider or orthopaedic expert.
  1. Don’t get your cast wet. A plaster cast may disintegrate if it gets wet. Water also compromises the effectiveness of fiberglass casts. To prevent damage to your cast, cover it with a plastic bag or a cast cover before bathing or going outside in the rain. Getting water inside your cast can cause an infection and promote mold growth. If you notice soft spots in your cast, contact your healthcare provider.
  2. Don’t stick anything in your cast. During your recovery, the skin under your cast may itch. While this is uncomfortable, don’t stick knitting needles, wooden spoons or anything else in your cast in an effort to relieve the itching. You may damage your skin, compromise the stability of the cast, or accidentally drop the object into the cast causing more discomfort.
  3. Don’t apply lotions, powders or deodorant to the skin under the cast. They may cause bacteria growth. If you notice red or raw skin under your cast, contact your provider.
  1. Don’t break off the edges of your cast or pull out the padding. Occasionally, the edges of your cast will become ragged. Avoid trimming the cast yourself. Contact your provider and ask to have your cast trimmed. Your provider will be able to inspect your cast to make sure it is still giving you the support you need.
  2. Don’t take your cast off. Removing your cast not only hinders healing, but it can also cause injury. Casts are durable. Your healthcare provider has a special tool that vibrates through the cast but does not cut the skin or padding underneath. Using home-improvement power tools to remove a cast can cause serious injury.

No one wants a fracture to slow them down.

Thankfully, most people who break a bone have access to medical care. Wearing cast for a few weeks or months keeps broken bones in the proper position and helps people maintain as much normal movement as possible.

If you experience a simple fracture with the skin intact, contact an orthopaedic expert, urgent care or walk-in care center for treatment. If you can see the bone through a wound or the bone juts out of the skin, call 9-1-1 or go to the nearest emergency room.