Plaster care (your child's arm plaster)

Plaster care (your child's arm plaster)

Plasters (also called casts or plaster casts) and splints allow the broken bone time to rest and heal.

Key points to remember

  • plasters and splints are applied to prevent the bones from moving and to allow the fracture time to rest and heal
  • after being sent home, look out for the warning signs which mean you should take your child back to the accident and emergency department urgently (see 'When should I seek help' below)
  • it is very important that your child returns for their follow up appointments

What is the purpose of a plaster or splint?

Plasters (also called casts or plaster casts) and splints are applied to prevent the bones from moving. This allows the fracture (broken bone) time to rest and heal.

Waiting for the plaster to dry

Photo of young girl with an plaster cast on her arm

An arm plaster cast takes 24 to 48 hours to dry.

While your child is waiting for the plaster to dry, have them rest it on something soft, such as a pillow or in a sling. Hard surfaces may damage your child's plaster.

The following DOs and DON'Ts are some guidelines to help you care for your child while they have their plaster on.

Some DOs

  • do rest the plaster on something soft until dry; use a pillow when sitting or lying down or support the arm in a sling, especially for the first 24-48 hours, to prevent swelling
  • do make sure your child frequently exercises their fingers
  • do get your child to gently exercise the joint above the plaster (their elbow and/or shoulder) as pain allows, to avoid stiffness
  • do check the colour of your child's fingers – they should be pink; squeeze the nail white, then release. They should return immediately to pink
  • do watch for swelling – compare it to the other hand - are they about the same size?
  • do keep your cast clean and dry
  • do check around the plaster for any smells – plasters do have a slight smell but should not be unpleasant
  • do ring the accident and emergency department or contact your medical team if you are worried

Some DON'Ts

  • don't use hairdryers or other drying equipment to dry the plaster – they may burn your child or crack the plaster; let the plaster dry naturally
  • don't press on the plaster for 24-48 hours until dry – pressing on it will dent it
  • don't write on the plaster until it is dry
  • don't get it wet
  • don't poke anything, such as knitting needles or other sharp objects, down the plaster; they may damage your child's skin and lead to infection
  • don't put lotions, creams or powder inside the plaster or around the edges
  • don't cut or remove the plaster – ring the hospital if it is uncomfortable
  • don't knock or bump the plaster
  • don't keep the sling on longer than instructed

What about bathing?

  • wrap a towel around the plaster
  • place the arm in a plastic bag large enough to cover it completely
  • secure the end with tape (such as sellotape)
  • don't put the arm in the bath. Rest it on the edge of the bath. If showering, don't aim the direct force of the shower at the affected limb

When should I seek help?

After being sent home (discharged), you should take your child back to the accident and emergency department or contact your medical team urgently if:

  • they complain of pain that is worsening and not helped by pain relief and elevation (raising the fractured limb)
  • their hand goes cold, pale or blue (or becomes increasingly swollen)
  • they complain of fuzziness, numbness, pins and needles or tingling in the fractured limb or fingers
  • they are unable to move their fingers

If the plaster becomes cracked, broken, soft or loose, or it is rubbing, contact your medical team. If this happens in the evening, contact your medical team the next morning.

Follow up appointments

It is very important that your child returns for their follow up appointments.

Your child will usually be given a fracture clinic appointment 5 to 14 days after discharge. At this appointment, another x-ray will be taken to make sure the bone is healing and is in place. Follow up at fracture clinic will usually be required several more times after this to make sure the break is healing.

Make sure you are given individual instructions for follow up from your nurse or doctor before you leave hospital.

Saying goodbye to the plaster

Photo of young girl having her arm plaster cast removed

When your child's injury has healed, their plaster will be removed with specially designed plaster shears or saw that will cut through the plaster but cannot cut the skin.

Plaster removal is a fast and painless process.

Back to normal

Your doctor will tell you how much physical activity is advisable for your child while their injury heals. After the plaster is removed, your doctor will probably let your child gradually resume regular activities, provided they do not cause discomfort to the newly healed limb. Please always check with your doctor first.

Orthopaedic Services. Canterbury District Health Board. 2005. Care of your cast: Patient information.

Starship Children’s Health. 2005. Plaster care: Patient and family information.

Waikato District Health Board. You and your arm plaster.

Starship Foundation and the Paediatric Society of New Zealand acknowledge the cooperation of Starship Children's Health, Auckland District Health Board. The content on this page has been produced in collaboration with the Starship Orthopaedic Service.

This page last reviewed 25 June 2015.
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