Skin surface pressure beneath an above-the-knee cast: Plaster casts compared with fiberglass casts

Jon Davids, Steve L. Frick, Ed Skewes, Dawn W. Blackhurst

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

48 Scopus citations

Abstract

Complications related to immobilization in a cast after an injury or an operation may be related to the materials used for the cast or to the techniques of application, or to both. To evaluate the widely held clinical opinion that the use of a fiberglass cast is dangerous and inappropriate when subsequent swelling of the extremity is anticipated, we studied the skin surface pressures that were generated beneath above-the-knee casts made with different materials and applied with different techniques. A prosthetic model of the lower extremity was designed with an expandable calf compartment to simulate swelling after an injury or an operation. With use of this model, we measured the skin surface pressure beneath a plaster-of-Paris cast, a fiberglass cast that had been applied with a standard technique, and a fiberglass cast that had been applied with a stretch-relax technique. The highest mean skin surface pressure after application of the cast (p < 0.001) and after simulated swelling of the limb (p = 0.04) was generated by the fiberglass cast that had been applied with a standard technique. The lowest mean skin surface pressure after application of the cast (p = 0.006), simulated swelling of the limb (p < 0.001), and all subsequent steps of the experimental protocol (p < 0.001) was generated by the fiberglass cast that had been applied with the stretch-relax technique. The mean skin surface pressure generated by the plaster cast and by the fiberglass cast applied with the standard technique did not return to the value before application of the cast until anterior and posterior longitudinal cuts had been made in the cast and the cast had been spread at those cuts. When the fiber-glass cast had been applied with the stretch-relax technique, the mean pressure returned to the baseline value after only an anterior longitudinal cut and spreading at that cut. The principal pitfall of the use of a fiberglass cast is related to the technique of application. When the fiberglass cast had been applied with the standard technique, it generated a mean skin surface pressure that was higher than that associated with the plaster cast and it accommodated simulated swelling poorly. When the fiberglass cast had been properly applied, with the stretch-relax technique, it generated a mean skin surface pressure that was significantly lower (p = 0.006) than that associated with the piaster cast and it better accommodated simulated swelling without the need to sacrifice the structural integrity of the cast.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)565-569
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of Bone and Joint Surgery - Series A
Volume79
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1997
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine

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