Plaster care (your child's leg plaster)

Plaster care (your child's leg plaster)

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

Waiting for the plaster to dry

A leg plaster cast takes 24- 48 hours to dry.

While you are waiting for the plaster to dry, rest it on something soft, such as a pillow. 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 leg plaster on.

Some DOs

  • do rest the plaster on something soft until dry; use a pillow to rest your child's leg on
  • do keep the plaster raised especially for 24 – 48 hours, to prevent swelling; elevate the leg on pillows initially, and at night
  • do make sure your child frequently exercises their toes
  • do check the colour of your child's toes – they should be pink; squeeze the nail white, then release. They should return immediately to pink
  • do watch for swelling – when your child hangs their leg down there will be some swelling. Get them to rest their leg on a chair for a couple of hours – compare it to the other leg; are they the same?
  • do keep your cast clean and dry
  • do remember to bring your child's crutches to the fracture clinic, even if your child is not using them at the time
  • 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, down the plaster; it may damage your child's skin
  • don't let your child walk on their plaster:
    • without using crutches
    • without instructions from the doctor
  • 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

Drawing showing what not to do to a cast


What about bathing?

If your child's plaster is a below knee plaster:

  • wrap a towel around the plaster
  • place the leg in a plastic bag large enough to cover it completely
  • secure the end with tape (such as sellotape)
  • either get your child to put their foot on the edge of the bath or on a stool just outside the shower

If your child's plaster is an above knee plaster:

  • just get your child to have a good wash all over with a cloth; do not attempt bathing or showering

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 foot goes cold, pale or blue (or becomes increasingly swollen)
  • they complain of fuzziness, numbness, pins and needles or tingling in the fractured limb or toes
  • they are unable to move their toes

If the plaster becomes cracked, broken, soft or loose, or it is rubbing, don’t walk on it – use crutches and 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 ensure 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

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.

Remember to return your child's crutches when finished.

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 leg plaster.

Starship Foundation and the Paediatric Society of New Zealand acknowledge the cooperation of Starship Children's Health, Auckland District Health Board.  This information was produced in collaboration with the Starship Orthopaedic Service.

This page last reviewed 25 June 2015.
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