How to apply a cast to a broken arm

Last Updated: May 6, 2021 References

This article was medically reviewed by Troy A. Miles, MD. Dr. Miles is an Orthopedic Surgeon specializing in Adult Joint Reconstruction in California. He received his MD from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in 2010, followed by a residency at the Oregon Health & Science University and fellowship at the University of California, Davis. He is a Diplomat of the American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery and is a member of the American Association of Hip and Knee Surgeons, American Orthopaedic Association, American Association of Orthopaedic Surgery, and the North Pacific Orthopaedic Society.

There are 20 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page.

This article has been viewed 144,981 times.

Experts agree that broken arms require immediate medical treatment, as the right treatment for you will depend on the place and severity of your break. If your arm is broken, you’ll likely notice severe pain, swelling, bruising, an inability to turn your arm, or a misshapen arm. [1] X Trustworthy Source Mayo Clinic Educational website from one of the world’s leading hospitals Go to source Research suggests that broken arms typically take a month or 2 to heal, and during that time you will likely need to keep your arm immobilized in a cast. [2] X Trustworthy Source National Health Service (UK) Public healthcare system of the UK Go to source Fortunately, your doctor can apply a cast to help your bone heal properly.

Last Updated: May 6, 2021 References

This article was medically reviewed by Troy A. Miles, MD. Dr. Miles is an Orthopedic Surgeon specializing in Adult Joint Reconstruction in California. He received his MD from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in 2010, followed by a residency at the Oregon Health & Science University and fellowship at the University of California, Davis. He is a Diplomat of the American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery and is a member of the American Association of Hip and Knee Surgeons, American Orthopaedic Association, American Association of Orthopaedic Surgery, and the North Pacific Orthopaedic Society.

There are 20 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page.

This article has been viewed 144,981 times.

Experts agree that broken arms require immediate medical treatment, as the right treatment for you will depend on the place and severity of your break. If your arm is broken, you’ll likely notice severe pain, swelling, bruising, an inability to turn your arm, or a misshapen arm. [1] X Trustworthy Source Mayo Clinic Educational website from one of the world’s leading hospitals Go to source Research suggests that broken arms typically take a month or 2 to heal, and during that time you will likely need to keep your arm immobilized in a cast. [2] X Trustworthy Source National Health Service (UK) Public healthcare system of the UK Go to source Fortunately, your doctor can apply a cast to help your bone heal properly.

Shifts in the Brain Improve Skills So You’re Not a Klutz for Long, Study Shows

Jan. 16, 2012 — Breaking an arm and wearing a sling or a cast is a real inconvenience, to say the least. When it’s the arm you depend on to eat, write, dress, brush your teeth, bathe, and do most everything, well, that’s when all the fun begins.

But Swiss researchers have discovered that the brain adjusts quickly to a broken limb. It doesn’t take long — perhaps a week or two — before shifts in the brain occur so people can adapt to their new circumstances and be less clumsy in using their other arm.

A new study has shown that two weeks after a broken arm, there’s an increase in the size of the brain areas needed to compensate for the injury, and a decrease in areas of the brain not being used while in a sling or cast. This rapid reorganization of the brain allows someone who is usually right-handed, for example, to transfer skills to the left hand while the hurt arm heals.

Continued

This finding is not only important for those with broken arms who temporarily need to rely on their less-used limb. It may also apply to people who are recovering from a stroke and working to regain lost motor skills.

“These results are especially interesting for rehabilitation therapy for people who’ve had strokes or other issues,” researcher Nicolas Langer, MSc, says in a news release. He is a neuropsychology researcher at the University of Zurich in Switzerland.

The study is published in the journal Neurology.

How the Brain Adapts

In this small study, researchers asked 10 healthy people who were right-handed and broke a bone in their upper arm to have two MRIs. The first brain scan took place within two days of the injury and a second one occurred a little more than two weeks after getting a sling or cast.

Scientists tested how well the usual right-handers could move their left hand and use it to perform various tasks. Scans allowed them to see how certain regions of the brain had adapted to people having their dominant hand immobilized for at least 14 days.

Continued

Researchers observed that even within two weeks’ time, the volunteers were much better at using their left hand than they had been two days after the injury. Regions in the brain’s left hemisphere linked with the use of the right hand had decreased in size.

Areas in the brain that improved skills in the left hand had increased in size, giving a person better movement and hand control in the uninjured arm. In other words, the sling or cast was doing its job of resting the limb so it could heal. And the brain had reorganized by forming new connections between brain cells to compensate for these changes.

In fact, the better an injured person could now do a usual task with his left hand, whether it was using a computer mouse or buttoning a shirt, the thicker the areas in the brain’s right hemisphere, which control the task, had become.

“The findings highlight the capacity of the human brain to adapt rapidly to changing demands,” write the researchers.

Sources

Langer, M. Neurology, Jan. 17, 2012.

News release, American Academy of Neurology.

The forearm bones (radius and ulna) are the two most commonly broken bones in the body. 1 Immediate management of these injuries includes applying a plaster cast—called a back slab—to the dorsal aspect of the forearm. These casts are a simple and effective way of providing temporary stabilisation of the fracture and pain relief. All medical students and junior doctors should know how to apply a dorsal back slab. 2 It is usually applied in the emergency department or orthopaedic theatre, but it might also be required during expeditions or in remote settings on elective placement.

The back slab bridges the gap in treatment until definite fracture fixation takes place—that is, an operation is planned within a few days or a full circumferential cast is applied once swelling has settled. In both cases, a fracture of a forearm bone will take about six weeks to heal.

It is important that a back slab does not encircle the limb to allow for some expansion secondary to swelling, and it should be easy to remove. A back slab can be applied with or without manipulation of the fracture, and it can play an important part in managing a fracture conservatively.

However, application of the back slab is not without its risks. Circulatory or nerve impairment can occur if a back slab is applied too tightly, and pressure ulcers can develop if padding at bony prominences is not applied appropriately. 2 3 Practice is all that is required to become proficient in applying a cast, and the fracture clinic or emergency department plaster room can be a source of training and support. The principles learnt from casting the forearm can be applied to other parts of the body. The British Orthopaedic Association’s patient liaison group states that they expect that anyone who requires …

Jonathan Cluett, MD, is board-certified in orthopedic surgery. He served as assistant team physician to Chivas USA (Major League Soccer) and the United States men’s and women’s national soccer teams.

Michael Menna, DO, is board-certified in emergency medicine. He is an attending emergency medicine physician at White Plains Hospital in White Plains, New York and also works at an urgent care center and a telemedicine company that provides care to patients across the country.

After a bone is broken it needs rest and support to heal properly. Orthopedic doctors use casts to support and protect injured bones. A cast is a supportive bandage that is solid and wraps all the way around the extremity.

Casts come in many shapes and sizes, but the two most common types of cast material used are plaster and fiberglass. While casts can be uncomfortable and cumbersome, they are an effective and efficient method to treat fractures.

How to apply a cast to a broken arm

Plaster

While fiberglass material is newer, many casts used today are still made from plaster. Plaster casts are most often used when a fracture reduction (repositioning of the bone) is performed.

The reason plaster is used after repositioning the bone is that plaster can be well molded to the patient, and therefore it can support the bone more precisely.   When a bone was out of position and is manipulated back into position, plaster may be used to help hold the bone in the proper position.

The problem with plaster is that it is heavy and must remain dry. Plaster casts are a burden for the patient because of their bulky and heavy material. Furthermore, water will distort the cast shape and can cause problems for healing should the cast get wet.

Fiberglass

Fiberglass casts are usually fitted when the bone is not out of position, or if the healing process has already started.   Fiberglass casts are lighter weight, longer wearing, and more breathable than plaster. The fiberglass casts are sturdier than the plaster and require less maintenance.

The vast majority of casts used today are fiberglass. The other advantage of fiberglass that is appealing to many (not just kids) is that it comes in many colors and is easy to ‘dress up.’

Both plaster and fiberglass casts are wrapped over a few layers of cotton that serve to protect the skin. Keeping this cotton clean and dry will be of utmost importance for your comfort.   There is a special type of padding material that can be used under fiberglass casts to allow the cast to get wet. Ask your doctor if you are interested in a “waterproof” cast.

Splints

Casts can also be differentiated from splint materials. A splint is often referred to by other names such as a soft cast or temporary cast.

Splints are often used when more rigid immobilization is not needed, or in the early stages after a fracture has occurred.   For example, seldom do patients leave a hospital emergency room in a cast. Instead, after their fracture is diagnosed, they are typically splinted. Splints can be made of many materials

The advantage of the splint in this setting is that there is more room for swelling. A potentially devastating complication of cast treatment after a fracture is compartment syndrome. This condition occurs when too much pressure builds up inside the body and can occur after a fracture when swelling occurs in a space confined by a cast.  

While compartment syndrome typically causes severe pain, this can be difficult to distinguish from normal fracture pain after a broken bone, and therefore most doctors don’t want to risk a complication and will, therefore, use a splint to ensure there is adequate room for swelling.

Rod Brouhard is an emergency medical technician paramedic (EMT-P), journalist, educator, and advocate for emergency medical service providers and patients.

Michael Menna, DO, is a board-certified, active attending emergency medicine physician at White Plains Hospital in White Plains, New York.

To immobilize a broken arm, make sure to immobilize the fracture site as well as the joints above and below the fracture.

Cardboard splints work very well for splinting broken arms in the field.

Items You’ll Need

How to apply a cast to a broken arm

To adequately splint a broken arm, you will need a cardboard splint, towels for padding, bandage scissors, roller gauze, and tape. Other items can be used to immobilize the broken arm. Anything that secures the broken arm and immobilizes it will work.

Assess the Break

How to apply a cast to a broken arm

Determine the location of the broken bone and assess the arm to make sure victim can still move fingers, feel touch, and has circulation to his or her hand.

Assess the broken arm by feeling the area of the broken bone. Deformity, crepitus (a grinding feeling under the skin), or discoloration may be present in the area of the fracture. In most cases, the victim will just feel pain and tenderness near the injury.

Assess the victim’s circulation, sensation, and motion in the hand.

  • Ask the victim to identify which finger is being touched.
  • Ask the victim to move fingers.
  • Feel the victim’s fingers to see if they are as warm as the hand on the unbroken arm.

Best 3 ways to put on/take off your bra with an arm cast. Don’t get frustrated, it takes a little practice. Watch it here: ****** I have demonstrated 3 different types of bras here, and some ideas of ways you can put them on with the use of only one hand. A little further down are suggestions with other women of how to put on a bra with one arm. For the moment my channel is video tutorials about how to live life well with your broken arm. Check back soon because I will be uploading videos about personal style, beauty, and confidence as I am a personal style coach. Subscribe using this link. ****** More Broken Arm Videos: Upper Body Workout With Broken Arm ****** Lower Body Workout With Broken Arm ****** How to Brush Floss and Rinse Your Teeth in An Arm Cast ****** ________________________________________­­______________ This is another video of how to put your bra on with only one hand. Just don’t wrap it around your thumb the first two weeks or so with a broken hand as this will send shooting pain up your arm. Allison Blazo: ****** ______________________________________________________ I’m on Social Media too! Instagram: ****** Facebook: ****** Twitter: ****** Pinterest: ****** ________________________________________­­_____________ How did I get a broken arm? I decided to take up snowboarding and on my fifth time I caught the edge of my board, fell backwards and broke my arm. Well more specifically, I broke my wrist, which is apparently a common injury for beginner snowboarders. Good to know I’m just average like everybody else right? I am making this life with a cast playlist to show you things to do with your broken arm/broken wrist, and how your broken arm doesn’t need to disrupt your life all that much if you don’t let it. So subscribe and lets have fun exploring the challenge of life with a broken arm, and later exploring the truth about fashion and style. How to put on your bra with your broken arm: ****** .

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How to Put on Your Bra with Your Broken Arm – Life with a cast – Broken arm – Episode 12

In this Article

  • Types of Casts
  • Swelling
  • Itching
  • Infection
  • When to Call Your Doctor

If you need a cast for a broken arm, to mend after knee surgery, or for another injury, you may wear it for several weeks or months. The cast keeps your bone or joint from moving so it can heal. But it also can cause discomfort and problems, from an annoying itch to a serious infection.

Types of Casts

You’ll likely get one of two main kinds of casts. Both are hard, and both go on top of a layer of cotton or other soft padding that rests on your skin.

Plaster cast. This is made of plaster of Paris, a white powder that, when mixed with water, turns into a thick paste that hardens. Take care not to get your cast wet. It can start to dissolve or irritate your skin. Take baths instead of showers. Cover the cast with a plastic bag or a sleeve sold in drugstores. If it gets wet, dry it with a blow-dryer on a cool setting, or suck air through the cast with a vacuum cleaner hose.

Continued

Fiberglass cast. Also called a synthetic cast, it’s made of fiberglass, which is a type of plastic that can be shaped. It’s lighter and more durable and expensive than plaster casts. X-rays also “see” through it better. Fiberglass is water-resistant. But the padding underneath is not, so it’s best to keep it away from water.

If you don’t have a fracture, your doctor may recommend a cast made of elastic or other soft material. It can be removed without a cast saw and could be a good choice for young children or someone who’s had surgery.

Swelling

Your cast may feel snug, especially the first few days after your injury. Usually it’s from your body swelling. To make it go down:

  • Prop up the injured part of the body so it’s higher than your heart. If the cast is on your leg, lie down and put cushions or pillows underneath. This helps drain blood and fluids away from the injured area.
  • Wiggle your fingers or toes on the injured arm or leg, and do it often. This also can prevent stiffness.
  • Chill the cast from the outside with a plastic bag of ice, or an ice pack wrapped in a thin towel. Keep the ice on the cast at the site of the injury for 15-30 minutes. Repeat every few hours for the first few days. Be sure to keep the cast dry.
  • If you feel sore or swollen, ask your doctors if you should take over-the-counter pain meds like acetaminophen or ibuprofen.

Itching

It can be maddening if you can’t reach a spot you need to scratch. Locate your itch, and tap it on the outside of the cast. You can also try blowing cool air from a hair dryer around the edges of the cast. Don’t give into temptation and stick a pencil, a ruler, or any other objects inside the cast to relieve the itch. That could break your skin. Avoid applying lotions, oils, deodorant, or powder in or around the cast.

Infection

It’s normal for your cast to get smelly after you’ve worn it for a while. But if you notice a foul odor or a discharge coming from the cast, it could mean your skin underneath is infected. Get it treated right away.

When to Call Your Doctor

You also should alert your doctor if you have:

  • A fever (higher than 100 F for child and 101 F for adult)
  • Numbness, tingling, burning, or stinging in the injured arm or leg
  • Sores under the cast
  • Pain or swelling that gets worse
  • Cold, pale, or bluish skin
  • A crack or soft spots in the cast
  • Wet cast that won’t dry
  • A cast that’s too tight or too loose
  • Red or raw skin around the cast
  • Trouble moving fingers or toes

Sources

Cleveland Clinic: “Casts and Splints.”

American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: “Care of Casts and Splints.”

Mayo Clinic: “Cast Care: Do’s and Don’ts.”

Nemours: “When Your Child Needs a Cast.”

KidsHealth: “Cool Cast Facts,” “Frequently Asked Questions about Casts.”

AboutKidsHealth (Canada): “Case Care: Arm or Leg Cast.”