What are hand, wrist and elbow casts?

A cast is a hard covering that you wear when you break a bone. Casts stabilize the bone and keep you from moving it while it's healing. They have a hard outer shell made of fiberglass or plaster and a soft cotton lining.

Casts can treat hand, wrist and elbow fractures. These are common injuries because many people use their arms to brace themselves when they fall. So, even a small accident can result in a broken bone.

Short arm casts extend from the knuckles to just below the elbow. These casts stabilize fractures in the forearm and wrist. Long arm casts cover the area from the knuckles all the way to the upper arm. These casts treat fractures of the elbow and upper arm — sometimes the forearm, too.

What to expect from hand, wrist and elbow casts

There are several ways that a bone can break. Some breaks are obvious simply by looking at your arm. Others require X-ray pictures to confirm the diagnosis. Either way, your doctor performs imaging tests. These help the doctor see the break clearly and come up with a treatment plan.

After resetting the bones — manually or surgically — your doctor fits you with a cast. First, the doctor puts on a stocking that covers your skin where the cast goes. Next, the doctor rolls a soft cotton material over the stocking to provide cushioning and padding. Finally, the doctor wraps a wet fiberglass or plaster material around the padding. This hardens as it dries.

You wear the cast for up to 10 weeks. In the first few days, you need to keep your arm elevated to prevent swelling. Your doctor may also prescribe medication to handle pain. It's important that you don't get your cast wet. Avoid swimming at first. Cover the cast with waterproof material while you're bathing.

Be sure to alert your doctor if you experience pain, numbness or tingling in your fingers or arm. This could be a sign that the cast is too tight or pressing on nerves.

Common conditions requiring hand, wrist and elbow casts

Bones in your hand, wrist and elbow can break in a number of ways. Some of the common breaks that may require a cast to heal are:

  • Colles fracture
  • Smith's fracture
  • Barton's fracture
  • Condylar facture
  • Scaphoid fracture
  • Monteggia fracture
  • Epicondylar fracture
  • Supracondylar fracture

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