A plaster bandage, commonly known as a plaster cast, is a firm material used to bind a body part and provide support to broken bones as healing takes place. It is usually applied to stabilize and prevent movement of the broken limb for many weeks or months, depending on the extent of the injury. The plaster bandage is generally made up of cotton bandages impregnated with a white powder, known as plaster of Paris, which hardens when mixed with water. Synthetic bandages, such as the fiberglass cast, may also be used, but some patients still prefer the plaster cast since it is less expensive.
Application of the plaster bandage is generally easy, but usually takes a lot of time. An orthopedic consultant, a doctor specializing in the treatment of disorders related to the musculoskeletal system, usually performs the procedure. The plaster cast, once applied and dried, is often bulky and quite heavy. It also must be kept dry at all times, as it can break down when wet.
One of the common indications for the use of a plaster bandage is a greenstick fracture. A greenstick fracture usually occurs in young children where one side of a bone is partially broken while the opposite side bends. After an orthopedic consultant performs a close fracture reduction or realignment of the affected limb, a plaster bandage is usually applied and must remain in place for a minimum of three weeks. When the fracture is considered healed, the plaster bandage is usually removed by using an electric circular saw to cut open the bandage. For children, this is frequently a painless, yet distressing experience.
There are many types of casts doctors use. The choice generally depends on the part of the body needing to be bandaged. Common areas include the upper extremity casts, which often enclose the hand, wrist or arm, or sometimes the whole arm when needed; the lower extremity cast, which may encase a portion of the leg or foot or even the whole lower extremity up to the hips; and body casts, which usually cover the trunk and may extend up to the neck or even the head.
When covered with a plaster cast for many weeks, the skin of the affected limb usually become scaly, itchy and dry. Allergic reactions to the materials used in the cast as well as infections, rashes and ulcerations can sometimes occur. Doctors regularly monitor patients to evaluate the patient's healing process and response to medication, if any is given.