How should I care for my plaster cast?

Plaster casts are made up of a bandage and a hard covering (usually plaster of Paris). They allow broken bones in the arm or leg to heal by holding them in place, and usually need to stay on for between 4 and 12 weeks.

Taking good care of your cast will help ensure a better recovery.

Plaster cast care advice

Keep your arm or leg raised on a soft surface, such as a pillow, for as long as possible in the first few days. This will help any swelling to go down and will help the cast dry correctly.

Don't get your plaster cast wet. This will weaken it and your bone will no longer be properly supported.

You can use a plastic bag to cover up the cast when you have a bath or shower. Try using sticky tape or a rubber band to seal the bag at the top and bottom to make it as water-tight as possible.

Alternatively, it is possible to buy special covers for plaster casts to keep them dry. Ask your local pharmacist (chemist) for more information. If your cast gets wet, contact your hospital for advice as soon as possible.

Always remove the bag as soon as you can to avoid causing sweating, which could also damage the cast.

Even if the plaster cast makes your skin feel very itchy, don't be tempted to poke anything underneath it. This could cause a nasty sore. The itchiness should settle down after a few days.

More plaster cast tips

  • exercise any joints that aren't covered by the cast – such as your elbow, knee, fingers or toes – to help improve your circulation
  • avoid getting small objects, powders and sprays inside your cast, as they could irritate your skin
  • don't try to alter the length or position of your cast
  • don't lift anything heavy or drive until the cast has been removed
  • use crutches or a sling, as advised by your health professional
  • use painkillers if you experience any pain

You can usually return to school or work with a cast, but you should avoid strenuous activities that may damage the broken bone or cast.

Plaster cast problems

You should go to your local hospital's A&E (accident and emergency) department if:

  • your plaster cast still feels too tight after keeping it elevated for 24 hours
  • your fingers or toes on the affected limb feel swollen, tingly, painful (even after taking painkillers) or numb
  • your fingers or toes turn blue or white
  • your cast feels too loose
  • your cast is broken or cracked
  • the skin underneath or around the edge of your cast feels sore
  • there is an unpleasant smell or discharge coming from your cast

If you have any concerns about your plaster cast, call NHS 111 for 24-hour advice.

Further information:

Page last reviewed: 21/03/2013

Next review due: 20/03/2015