If you’ve broken a bone, you’re going to need to keep the affected joints immobilized for a period of time to ensure the tissues heal correctly. In many cases, there’s no better way to safely immobilize the area—and ensure as speedy a recovery as possible—than applying a cast.
If your doctor has put you in a cast, you don’t have to resign yourself to weeks of itchy skin and unpleasant smells. Follow these tips from our orthopedic surgeons to keep your cast as comfortable and unobtrusive as possible while you heal.
Caring for your cast 101: Keep it clean and dry
No one loves wearing a cast, but things will be much more enjoyable if you keep it as clean as possible. Here are a few steps to take:
- Cover the cast while you prepare food and eat. Food splatters can leave stains, smells, and sticky residues before you know it. Crumbs can also make their way inside the cast, leading to bad odors or risking infection. Prevent this by wearing long sleeves or slipping a plastic liner over a wrist/arm cast. If your leg is casted, wear a long apron while cooking and keep it on while eating, or place a towel over your lap.
- Skip the beauty products for now. Lotions, deodorants, and body sprays can get on or inside a cast and attract dirt. Because you cannot get a cast wet, there’s not a good way to thoroughly clean them off. It’s best to avoid these products near a cast.
- Be diligent about hygiene after sweating. Sweat beneath your cast is likely, especially if you are participating in physical therapy or other form of exercise. Check with your doctor about using a moisture absorbing powder, such as Gold Bond, around your cast. Also, change out of sweaty clothes ASAP and keep a clean, dry towel on hand to wipe skin around the area, so sweat doesn’t roll down into the cast.
Unless you have a fiberglass cast, which has a water-resistant liner, it’s imperative to keep your cast dry as a bone (we couldn’t resist!). This not only ensures that your cast continues to provide optimal support, but also helps to prevent skin irritation and bad smells. Showering, bathing, and household tasks present the biggest challenge; here are some handy tools to keep your cast dry during these activities:
- “Press ‘n Seal” cling wrap. Unlike regular plastic wrap or a zip-lock bag, the newer press and seal variety has an adhesive that helps prevent seepage. Using it can keep the cast dry against splashes or rain, but don’t submerge a cast using only cling wrap.
- Premade cast guards. Available in drugstores, cast guards are pre-fit garments that stretch over a cast and fit tightly around it. They are more expensive than cling wrap, but are more foolproof and much less of a hassle.
- Veterinary gloves. These heavy-duty, arm-length plastic gloves are made to examine large animals internally; this makes them great as a water barrier for a cast while showering or doing dishes. You can order them online.
How to stop itching in your cast (safely)
Itching is one of the most common complaints among cast-bound patients. Never stick an item like a pencil or coat hanger into your cast to scratch an itch—you could perforate the skin or part of the instrument could break off and get “lost” in the cast (we’ve found many pencil erasers in casts we’ve removed). Instead, stick to these safer alternatives:
- Use a hair dryer on the cool setting. Cool, dry air can soothe an itch without risking damage. Simply aim the hair dryer underneath the side closest to the itch. Only use the cool setting—warm air can damage the cast. A bike pump can also do in a pinch.
- Minimize moisture and sweating. Excess moisture can worsen cast itch, so limit heat and follow the above tips for keeping your cast dry.
- Ask your doctor about over-the-counter antihistamines. If itching is keeping you from sleeping well, you may consider taking Benadryl or other anti-itch medication. These drugs can make you drowsy, so only use them when necessary and if you are not planning on driving, cooking, or using heavy equipment afterwards.
Keep the smell under control
Like any place that’s moisture-prone and lacks ventilation, casts are notorious for developing an unpleasant odor. Following the above advice will go a long way toward keeping smelliness to a minimum. Additional measures you can take:
- Rub a scented dryer sheet on the outside of the cast. Do not push it underneath the cast.
- Sprinkle on baking soda or moisture-absorbing powder. These can safely absorb moisture and odors on the cast and around the openings.
- In extreme cases, request a new cast. It’s far better to take good care of your original cast and prevent odor, but if the smell is interfering with your work or school life, call your doctor. An overpowering smell may merit a replacement.
When to call your doctor
Some itching, sweating and stinkiness is to be expected, even with the best of care. However, if an strong or persistent unpleasant odor may be a sign of a skin infection, so it’s best to call your doctor, who can determine if the cast should be changed.
Additionally, swelling is normal with many sports injuries, so if your cast feels tight, try elevating the affected limb. If the tightness does not subside, or if you feel pain, tingling, numbness, or you can’t move your fingers or toes, get in touch with your doctor.
Finally, if the cast lining is tearing or sliding out of place, do not attempt to cut or repair this yourself—your doctor will know how to best repair a cast to ensure it’s still providing optimal support.
We’re here to answer your questions!
The above advice should significantly improve life with a cast. If you have more questions about cast care, or any other orthopedic issue, come see our experienced team at Carolina Hand & Sports Medicine in Asheville. Our board certified doctors are experienced, friendly, and passionate about helping patients get past injuries and return to their active lives. Call 828-253-7521 for more information or to make an appointment.