Splint Care

What is a splint?

A splint is a device that supports and protects body parts that have been injured, such as a broken bone or muscle sprain. A splint may also be worn after surgery. A splint is sometimes called a half-cast because it does not wrap around an entire body area like a cast does. A splint is used to decrease pain and stop or limit movement so you can heal. Unlike casts, caregivers can easily adjust a splint if you have swelling or pain after an injury.

What are the different types of splints?

Splints come in many shapes and sizes. A splint can be as simple as buddy taping (fingers taped together) for a finger injury. Other splints are large enough to support your hips or thighs. Some splints are made of plastic or fabric. The fit of these splints can be adjusted with hook and loop straps, buckles, or laces. These splints can be taken off to wash, rest your injury, or do exercises that caregivers suggest. Other kinds of splints are made of hard plaster or fiberglass. Hard splints stay on all the time. Caregivers may adjust or remove your hard splint as you heal. Ask your caregiver for more information about the different kinds of splints.

What ways can splinting be done?

  • Static splinting: Static splints prevent you from moving an injured area. You might get a static splint right after an injury to relieve pain and reduce swelling. Depending on your injury, you may get a cast after the swelling goes down.

  • Dynamic splinting: Caregivers may switch you to a dynamic splint as you begin to heal. Dynamic splints allow you to have increased movement of the joints that have had limited range of motion.

  • Serial splinting: During serial splinting, caregivers change your splint once a week, for 6 weeks or more. Each splint change allows more movement in your joint.

How is hard splinting done?

  • You will sit or lie down on a table or bed. Caregivers will check blood flow, movement, and feeling around your injury. Any skin or tissue injuries may be treated first. Before your splint is put on, you may get medicine to help decrease your pain.

  • First, a stockinette (fabric) may be put over your skin, around your injury. You may not have a stockinette if caregivers expect a lot of swelling to occur. The stockinette helps protect your skin and will make the edges of your splint smooth. Caregivers then place your injured body area in the correct position, and wrap your injury with 2 to 3 layers of padding. You will get extra padding over bony areas, such as your ankle or elbow. Layers of the wet plaster or fiberglass sheets are applied and smoothed over the padding. The edges of the stockinette and padding are then folded back over the hard splint to smooth the edges. You may have one more layer of padding added before caregivers wrap and secure an elastic bandage around your splint.

  • An x-ray may be done to check your bone placement after you get your splint. This is normally done if you have a bone fracture or joint dislocation. Caregivers will check your blood flow, skin temperature, and feeling around the injury after your splint is on.

How long will I wear a splint?

You will need to see your caregiver for a follow-up visit 1 to 2 weeks after you get a splint. Your caregiver will tell you how long to wear your splint. Most splints are worn from days to weeks, depending on your injury. Many fractures can take 4 to 8 weeks to heal. Serial splints may be worn longer. Some splints can be taken off at certain times of the day. Ask your caregiver when, or if, your splint should be adjusted or removed.

How do I care for my splint?

  • Wait for your hard splint to harden completely. Wait about 30 minutes to walk on a fiberglass splint. You may have to wait up to 3 days before you can walk on a plaster splint.

  • Check your splint and the skin around it each day. Check your splint for damage, such as cracks and breaks. Check your skin for redness, increased swelling, and sores.

  • Keep your splint dry. Before you bathe, wrap your hard splint with 2 layers of plastic. Then put a plastic bag over it. Keep the plastic bag tightly sealed. You can also ask your caregiver about waterproof shields. Do not put your hard splint in the water , even with a plastic bag over it. A wet splint can make your skin itchy, and may lead to infection.

  • Keep your splint clean. Keep dirt out of your splint.

  • Loosen the elastic bandage around your splint if it feels too tight.

  • Do not put powders or deodorants inside your splint, because they can dry your skin and increase itching.

  • Do not try to scratch the skin inside your hard splint with sharp objects. Sharp objects can break off inside your splint or hurt your skin.

  • Do not pull the padding out of your splint. The padding inside your splint protects your skin. You may get severe sores on your skin if you take out the padding.

How do I treat pain and swelling after I get my splint?

  • Pain medicines:

    • NSAIDs: These medicines decrease swelling, pain, and fever. NSAIDs are available without a doctor's order. Ask your caregiver which medicine is right for you. Ask how much to take and when to take it. Take as directed. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding and kidney problems if not taken correctly.

    • Acetaminophen: This medicine decreases pain and fever. It is available without a doctor's order. Ask how much to take and how often to take it. Follow directions. Acetaminophen can cause liver damage if not taken correctly.

  • Rest and elevation: Raise your splinted area above the level of your heart for 1 to 3 days. This will help decrease swelling and pain. Prop your splinted area on pillows or blankets to keep it elevated comfortably.

  • Ice: Ice helps decrease swelling and pain. Ice may also help prevent tissue damage. Use an ice pack, or put crushed ice in a plastic bag. Cover it with a towel and place it on your injury for 30 minutes at a time, for the first 2 days. Use the ice as often as your caregiver has directed.

  • Gentle movement: Wiggle your fingers and toes often. Gentle movement helps reduce stiffness and swelling.

What are the risks of splinting?

  • Your splint may feel tight until the swelling from your injury decreases. A tight splint may be painful, and it can limit blood flow to your injury. Pressure from the splint may cause your injured area to feel numb or tingly. The skin under your splint may become dry, itchy, or infected. You may get painful sores on the skin under the splint. Your splinted joint may feel stiff. You may develop contractures that change the way your injured area works and looks. Your risk for these problems increases the longer you have to wear the splint.

  • Sometimes a hard splint can burn your skin from the heat the splint creates as it dries. You may develop compartment syndrome, which is swelling that becomes so severe that it blocks blood flow to your injury. Compartment syndrome can cause severe pain and long-term damage to your muscles and nerves. Without splint treatment for injuries, such as a fracture or sprain, your bones and tissues may not heal properly.

Where can I get more information about my injury?

  • American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
    6300 North River Road
    Rosemont , IL 60018-4262
    Phone: 1- 847 - 823-7186
    Web Address: http://www.aaos.org/

When should I contact my caregiver?

Contact your caregiver if:

  • Your hard splint gets wet or is damaged.

  • You have a fever.

  • Your splint feels tighter.

  • You have itchy, dry skin under your splint that is getting worse.

  • The skin under your splint is red, or you have a new sore.

  • There is a bad smell coming from your splint.

When should I seek immediate care?

Seek care immediately or call 911 if:

  • You have increased pain.

  • Your fingers or toes are numb or tingling.

  • You feel burning or stinging around your injury.

  • Your nails, fingers, or toes turn pale, blue, or gray, and feel cold.

  • You have new or increased trouble moving your fingers or toes.

  • Your swelling gets worse. You may see more swelling in your fingers or toes below your splint.

  • The skin under your splint is bleeding or leaking pus.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2013 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

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