Splint Care Tips

Topic Overview

When you first get your splint

A splint protects a broken bone or other injury. If you have a removable splint, follow your doctor's instructions and only remove the splint if your doctor says you can.

Most splints can be adjusted. Your doctor will show you how to do this and will tell you when you might need to adjust the splint.

Many splints are premade. Your doctor may also make a splint from plaster or fiberglass. Some splints have a built-in air cushion. Air pads are inflated to hold the injured area in place.

Putting weight on your splint

Don't put any weight on a splint. If you have a walking boot, your doctor will tell you when you can put weight on it.

Swelling

Your splint may feel snug for a few days after your surgery or injury. This is usually because of swelling. Swelling can slow healing and cause pain. Too much swelling inside the splint can cause pressure that can harm you.

To help reduce swelling:

  • Prop up the injured arm or leg on a pillow when you ice it or as much as you can when you sit or lie down. Try to keep it above the level of your heart.
  • Put ice or cold packs on the hurt area for 10 to 20 minutes at a time. Try to do this every 1 to 2 hours for the next 3 days (when you are awake) or until the swelling goes down. Be careful not to get the splint wet.
  • If the fingers or toes on the limb with the splint were not injured, wiggle them every now and then. This helps move the blood and fluids in the injured limb.
  • Take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). These can help reduce swelling and pain. Be safe with medicines. Be sure to follow all instructions on the label.

Water and your splint

  • Keep your splint dry. Moisture can collect under the splint and cause skin irritation and itching. If you have a wound or have had surgery, moisture under the splint can increase the risk of infection.
  • Cover your splint with at least two layers of plastic when you take a shower or bath, unless your doctor said you can take it off while bathing.
  • If you can take the splint off when you bathe, pat the area dry after bathing and put the splint back on.
  • If your splint gets a little wet, you can dry it with a hair dryer. Use a "cool" setting.

Splint and skin care

  • If you're allowed to take your splint off, be sure your skin is dry before you put it back on.
  • If your splint is not to be removed, try blowing cool air from a hair dryer or fan into the splint to help relieve itching. Never stick items under your splint to scratch the skin.
  • Do not use oils or lotions near your splint. If the skin becomes red or sore around the edge of the splint, you may pad the edges with a soft material, such as moleskin, or use tape to cover the edges.
  • Keep up your muscle strength and tone as much as you can while protecting your injured limb or joint. Your doctor may want you to tense and relax the muscles protected by the splint. Check with your doctor or physical therapist for instructions.
  • Watch for pressure sores. These can form over bony areas. Symptoms include a warm spot on the splint, pain, drainage, or an odor. Call your doctor if you think you have a pressure sore.
  • Watch for compartment syndrome. This happens when pressure builds up in a group of muscles, nerves, and blood vessels. It is an emergency. Symptoms include severe pain or tingling or numbness.

When to call

Call your doctor right away if:

  • You have increased or severe pain.
  • You feel a warm or painful spot under the splint.
  • You have problems with your splint. For example:
    • The skin under the splint burns or stings.
    • The splint feels too tight.
    • There is a lot of swelling near the splint. (Some swelling is normal.)
    • You have a new fever.
    • There is drainage or a bad smell coming from the splint.
  • Your foot or hand is cool or pale or changes color.
  • You have trouble moving your fingers or toes.
  • You have symptoms of a blood clot in your arm or leg. (This is called a deep vein thrombosis.) Symptoms may include:
    • Pain in the arm, calf, back of the knee, thigh, or groin.
    • Redness and swelling in the arm, leg, or groin.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • The splint is breaking apart or losing its shape.
  • You are not getting better as expected.

Related Information

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Current as of June 4, 2014

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.

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