Having a cast fitted or removed

If you've been fitted with a cast to treat your injury, your healthcare professional will tell you how long you need to wear it for.

Plaster casts are made up of a bandage and a hard covering, usually plaster of paris. They allow your tissues, like bone or tendon, to heal by holding them in place.

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

General advice

Do

  • elevate your limb as much as possible to help prevent or ease any swelling and discomfort
  • be patient - try to move slowly and with care as the cast may be heavy
  • make sure you move all the joints surrounding your injury that are not covered by the cast - this can help improve your recovery time

Don't

  • do not insert anything down your plaster cast to relieve itching or irritation as this may damage the skin below the cast

Non-urgent advice: Phone 111 if:

  • you experience pain in your calf, shortness of breath, new redness and swelling, or new and constant pins and needles or numbness
  • your cast feels too loose
  • your cast is broken or cracked
  • there is a rubbing inside of your cast
  • you notice an unpleasant smell or discharge coming from the cast

Exercises for arm casts

Exercises can be beneficial for the joints around your arm injury that aren't covered by the cast.

You can try arm exercises whilst you have a cast on.

Shoulder flexion

  1. Stand or sit in an upright position. You can also lie on your back.
  2. Slowly lift your affected arm up towards the ceiling (elbow straight) and then lower again.
  3. Repeat 5 times.
Woman lying on her back with both knees pointing towards the sky. Her arms are clasped and reach over her head.
Lift your arms up over your body.

Elbow flexion and extension

  1. Sitting in an upright position, slowly bend your affected elbow. Your hand should move towards your shoulder.
  2. Straighten your elbow out fully.
  3. Repeat 5 times.
Woman facing forwards. Her right hand touches her right shoulder.
Slowly bend your affected elbow so that your hand moves towards your shoulder.

Hand clench

  1. With the side of your hand rested on a table, and your fingers and wrist straight, clench your hand into a loose fist.
  2. Hold for 2 seconds then unclench and straighten your fingers.
Forearm rests on table with fingers clenched into a fist.
Clench your hand into a loose fist.

Finger and thumb touch

  1. Place your palm out in from with your fingers stretched out.
  2. Touch your thumb to the top of your little finger and then stretch your hand out again.
Thumb touches the top of the little finger.
Touch your thumb to the top of your little finger.

Exercises for leg casts

 Move your toes little and often when they are in a cast.

Some exercises are beneficial for the joints around your leg injury that are not covered by the cast.

Lying knee bend

  1. With both knees straight, slowly bend your sore leg by sliding your foot along the floor or bed towards you as far as is comfortable.
  2. Hold this position for 2 seconds before straightening your leg.
Woman lies on bed with left knee bent towards the ceiling. Her right leg stretches out in front.
Practise a lying knee bend.

What to do when your cast is removed

When you have your cast removed your skin can be dry, flaky or discoloured. Sometimes you may see more hair. The hair can also be thicker.

To help your skin at this time, you should:

  • wash and dry your limbs gently
  • moisturise your limb regularly
  • avoid picking any wounds to allow them to heal naturally

It's normal to feel stiff and sore after a cast is removed. This is because your limb has been kept still for a long period of time. This will ease with movement

It can take several weeks for you to restore your full movement. It can sometimes take months for your strength to return. You will have lost some muscle but this will return as you increase your activity levels. Swelling may also continue for some time.

Sometimes the pain can increase when the cast comes off. This is because the area is moving more than it has been for the past few weeks. It's normal to still be using painkillers at this stage, or to need them after you've initially stopped using them.

If you need advice on painkillers speak to your local pharmacist or GP.

Find your local pharmacy

Use Scotland's Service Directory to find your local pharmacy.

Pharmacies

Recovering after a cast is removed

There are many factors that can affect recovery, including:

  • age
  • smoking
  • the severity of the injury
  • whether or not you had an operation for your fracture
  • other illnesses

Every individual’s injury is different so try not to compare yourself to someone else that has had a similar injury.

You'll receive further advice when you have your cast removed.

Quit Your Way Scotland offer help and advice on stopping smoking.

Driving after having a cast removed

If you have an injury to your lower limb, you can return to driving when you no longer need the:

  • plaster cast
  • orthopaedic boot
  • crutches

You must also be confident that you can do an emergency stop.

If you have an upper limb injury, you can begin to drive when you no longer have a plaster cast or sling. You should also have enough pain-free strength in your arms.

If you are in any doubt, do not drive until you've spoken to your healthcare professional.

Last updated:
01 August 2022