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The Definitive Guide To Splints

Updated: Sep 24, 2023

When it comes to understanding splints, it's important to grasp the basics before diving into the details. So, what exactly is a splint? Essentially, a splint is a medical device used to immobilize and support an injured or fractured body part. In this section, we will explore the purpose of splints and how they differ from casts.

splinting wrist

By providing context and shedding light on these fundamental elements, we can lay a solid foundation for understanding everything you need to know about splints.

What is a Splint?

A splint is a medical device used to immobilize and support a injured body part, such as a bone or joint. It provides stability and protects the area from further damage. Splints are different from casts in that they can be easily adjusted and removed, allowing for flexibility during the healing process.

Splints can either be rigid or flexible, depending on the type of injury being treated. Rigid splints are made of hard materials like plaster or fiberglass, while flexible splints are made of softer materials like foam or fabric. There are also custom-made splints that are specially tailored to fit an individual's unique injury, as well as ready-made splints that can be purchased off the shelf.

Common injuries treated with splints include fractures, sprains, strains, and dislocations. Splints offer several benefits including pain relief, immobilization of the injured area, and protection against further injury. However, there are also limitations to using splints such as limited range of motion and inability to provide complete stability.

Applying a splint involves several steps including assessing the injury, cleaning the area, padding the splint, and securing it in place with bandages or straps. It's important to follow proper application techniques to ensure proper alignment and support.

Taking care of a splint involves general maintenance tips such as keeping it clean and dry, avoiding getting it wet during showers, and applying lotions or creams to alleviate itching and irritation. It's also important to maintain muscle strength by performing exercises recommended by a healthcare professional.

There are signs that may indicate the need for medical attention when using a splint such as increased pain or swelling, changes in color or sensation in the affected area, or difficulty moving fingers or toes. In some cases, seeking immediate help is necessary if there is severe pain or loss of function.

Complications associated with using a splint may include bone movement within the splint causing malalignment or delayed healing, skin irritation or breakdown due to pressure or friction, joint stiffness from lack of movement, burns from hot objects or heating pads placed near the splint, neurovascular injury that affects blood flow and nerve function, and in rare cases, compartment syndrome where increased pressure within the splinted area can lead to tissue damage.

Strap on a splint, because broken bones and sprained joints need a little extra support before they heal.

Purpose of a Splint

arm splint

A splint has a specific purpose to serve in the treatment of certain injuries. The purpose of a splint is to immobilize and support an injured body part, typically a bone or joint, in order to facilitate healing and prevent further damage.

  • A splint helps stabilize fractures or broken bones, reducing pain and preventing further displacement.

  • It provides support to sprained joints, helping to reduce swelling and promote healing.

  • For strains or muscle injuries, a splint can help restrict movement and alleviate pain.

  • In cases of dislocations, a splint can hold the affected bone or joint in place until medical attention is received.

Additionally, splints can be used as a temporary measure while waiting for further medical intervention. They provide immediate relief and protection for the injured area.

It's important to note that while there are various types of splints available (as discussed in the previous section), the purpose remains consistent - to immobilize and support the injured body part. By securing the injury with a splint, it allows for proper alignment and stability during the healing process.

Difference Between a Splint and a Cast

A splint and a cast are two different orthopedic devices used for treating various injuries. While they share some similarities, such as providing support and immobilization, there are distinct differences between them.

  • A splint is a rigid or flexible device made of materials like metal or plastic, while a cast is typically made of plaster or fiberglass.

  • A splint allows for some degree of movement and can be adjusted to accommodate swelling, whereas a cast provides more rigid immobilization to promote proper healing.

  • Splints can be easily removed and reapplied when necessary, allowing for regular inspection of the injury site, while casts require sawing to remove them.

  • As splints have less bulk than casts, they are generally more comfortable to wear and allow for better circulation.

  • Lastly, because splints provide less immobilization compared to casts, they are often used for less severe injuries or as temporary treatment before applying a cast if needed.

It is important to note that while both splints and casts serve their purposes in orthopedic treatment, the choice between them depends on the nature and severity of the injury.

Types of Splints

When it comes to the world of splints, there is a wide array of choices available for different needs. First, we have rigid splints, which provide sturdy support and stability for fractures or severe injuries. Next, we will dive into flexible splints, which allow for movement while providing gentle support for sprains or strains. Additionally, we will discuss custom-made splints tailored to individual needs and ready-made splints that provide immediate relief for common injuries.

Rigid Splints

Rigid splints are a type of support device used in the treatment of various injuries. They provide stability and immobilization to the affected area, allowing for proper healing.

  • Rigid splints consist of a hard material, such as plastic or metal, that offers firm support to the injured body part.

  • These splints are designed to restrict movement and ensure proper alignment of bones or joints.

  • Rigid splints can be applied externally to fractures, sprains, strains, and dislocations.

  • They are commonly used for fractures that require significant immobilization and stability.

In addition to their ability to effectively stabilize injuries, rigid splints also offer other advantages. They can be easily custom-made or ready-made according to specific needs. Furthermore, rigid splints help reduce pain and prevent further damage by limiting movement in the affected area.

A study conducted by the National Library of Medicine revealed that the use of rigid splints resulted in faster healing and improved patient outcomes for fractures compared to other types of immobilization devices.

Overall, rigid splints serve as an essential tool in the management of various injuries by providing necessary support and immobilization for optimal healing and recovery. When it comes to flexibility, these splints are like the elastic waistbands of the medical world.

Flexible Splints

Flexible splints, also known as pliable supports, offer a versatile solution for the immobilization and support of injured limbs. They are designed to mold to the shape of the affected area, providing a customized fit that ensures optimal comfort and stability. The following points further highlight the key features and benefits of flexible splints:

  • Lightweight and compact: Flexible splints are typically made from lightweight materials such as foam or neoprene. This makes them easy to carry and wear, minimizing discomfort for the patient.

  • Adjustable support: These splints can be easily adjusted to provide varying levels of support depending on the severity of the injury or the stage of healing. This flexibility allows for personalized treatment.

  • Breathable and moisture-wicking: Many flexible splints incorporate breathable fabrics or perforated designs that allow air circulation and prevent sweat buildup. This helps maintain hygiene and comfort during extended wear.

  • Easy application: With their pliable nature, flexible splints can be readily applied to different body parts without causing additional discomfort. They can conform to irregular surfaces, ensuring even pressure distribution.

  • Versatile use: Flexible splints are suitable for a wide range of injuries, including sprains, strains, tendonitis, and post-surgical recovery. They can be used in various locations such as wrists, elbows, knees, ankles, and even back or neck regions.

  • Enhanced mobility: Although providing immobilization when required, flexible splints do not completely restrict movement. They allow controlled range-of-motion exercises that aid in rehabilitation without compromising stability.

In addition to these features, it is worth noting that flexible splints are often recommended by medical professionals for their adaptability in accommodating swelling or changes in the affected area's size during the healing process.

To ensure the best possible outcomes and minimize potential complications associated with incorrect usage or prolonged wear of flexible splints, it is crucial to follow healthcare provider instructions regarding fitting adjustments and duration of use.

Don't miss out on the benefits of flexible splints in promoting efficient healing and providing necessary support for injured limbs. Consult your healthcare provider to determine if they are suitable for your specific injury and enjoy a faster path to recovery.

Custom-made Splints

  • Custom-fit: These splints are made to fit the unique anatomical contours of the patient's body, providing maximum comfort and support.

  • Personalized Design: Custom-made splints can be customized according to the patient's injury, allowing for targeted immobilization or stabilization of specific joints or bones.

  • Material Selection: The materials used in custom-made splints can vary depending on the patient's needs, with options such as lightweight plastics or thermoplastic materials that can be molded for a perfect fit.

  • Enhanced Functionality: Custom-made splints can be designed to allow for additional features such as adjustable straps, removable components, or specialized padding for increased functionality and patient comfort.

  • Long-Term Use: These splints are often recommended for more complex injuries or conditions that require extended immobilization or ongoing support, as they offer superior durability and effectiveness compared to ready-made options.

  • Professional Expertise: The fabrication of custom-made splints requires the expertise of a skilled orthotist who can assess the patient's needs, create an appropriate design, and ensure proper fitting and function of the splint.

Custom-made splints provide numerous advantages over other types of splints in terms of fit, comfort, functionality, and long-term usage. They offer personalized solutions to specific injuries or conditions by considering individual anatomical specifications.

To enhance the effectiveness of custom-made splints:

- Regular evaluations by a healthcare professional are essential to ensure proper fit and functionality.

- Adequate education about wearing instructions should be provided to the patient to ensure correct usage.

- Regular communication with the healthcare provider regarding any discomfort, changes in the injury, or concerns is crucial for optimal treatment outcomes.

Ready-made Splints

Ready-made splints, also known as off-the-shelf splints, are pre-fabricated devices designed to provide support and immobilization for various injuries.

- These splints are available in different sizes and shapes to accommodate the needs of different individuals and injuries.

- Ready-made splints offer convenience as they can be easily purchased and applied without the need for customization.

Additionally, it is important to note that ready-made splints are a cost-effective option for immediate immobilization while waiting for a custom-made splint to be created.

Ready-made splints have become increasingly popular in recent years due to their accessibility and affordability. As advancements in technology continue, there has been a rise in the availability of ready-made splints in various designs and materials, catering to a wide range of orthopedic injuries.

Common Injuries Treated with Splints

injured leg

When it comes to common injuries that require splints, there are several types that frequently benefit from this treatment. Let's explore these injuries in detail to understand how splints can be an effective solution.

First, we have fractures, where bones are broken due to high impact or excessive force. Next, we have sprains, which occur when ligaments are stretched or torn. Then, we have strains, which are injuries to muscles or tendons. Lastly, we have dislocations, which happen when the bones at a joint are forced out of their normal position. By addressing these specific injuries with appropriate splints, we can promote proper healing and provide necessary support.


Fractures may require immobilization using splints to support and stabilize the affected area. This helps prevent further damage and promotes healing. Splints provide temporary protection for the fractured bone before more definitive treatment such as casting or surgery is initiated. In addition to providing stability, splints can also alleviate pain and reduce swelling associated with fractures.

They allow for early mobilization of the injured limb while maintaining proper alignment of the bone fragments. It is crucial to follow proper splint application techniques to ensure optimal outcomes. This includes assessing and addressing any neurovascular compromise, maintaining muscle strength through gentle exercises, and keeping the splinted area clean and dry. Seek medical attention if any signs of infection, increased pain, numbness or tingling sensation in the extremities, or signs of compartment syndrome develop after application of a splint.

Proper use of splints for fracture management can help facilitate healing and prevent complications such as malunion or nonunion of bones.

It is important not to delay seeking medical attention for fractures, as prompt diagnosis and treatment can lead to better outcomes.


  • Sprains usually result in pain, swelling, and limited mobility in the affected joint.

  • Severity of sprains can range from mild (slight stretching or microscopic tearing of ligament fibers) to severe (complete tear).

  • Treatment for sprains includes rest, ice, compression, and elevation (RICE), as well as physical therapy exercises.

  • It is essential to properly diagnose a sprain as sometimes it may require additional medical intervention if there is a risk of ligament instability or associated fractures.

Sprains can vary in severity depending on the extent of ligament damage. Mild sprains may heal with conservative treatment within a few weeks, while more severe sprains may require a longer recovery period and additional medical care. It's important to follow proper treatment protocols and consult a doctor if symptoms worsen or persist.

Pro Tip: To help prevent sprains, it's important to maintain good muscle strength and flexibility through regular exercise and proper warm-up techniques before physical activity.


finger strain

In addition to fractures and sprains, strains are another common type of injury in the musculoskeletal system.

There are different types of strains that can occur depending on the specific structure involved - muscle strain, ligament strain, and tendon strain.

Muscle strains occur when a muscle or tendon is stretched or torn due to overexertion or improper body mechanics.

Common symptoms include pain, swelling, and limited range of motion.

Ligament strains involve damage to a ligament that provides stability to joints.

These strains typically occur when a joint is forced beyond its normal range of motion.

Symptoms include pain, bruising and joint instability.

Tendon strains involve inflammation or tearing of a tendon, which connects muscles to bones.

Repetitive motions or sudden forceful movements are common causes for this type of strain.

It is important to seek proper medical attention for strains as they can vary in severity and require appropriate treatment.

Assessment by a healthcare professional can help determine the extent of the injury and guide the treatment plan.

One example of a historical strain injury is the hamstring strain experienced by track athlete Usain Bolt during the 2017 World Championships. He felt a sudden sharp pain in his left hamstring during his final race and subsequently had to withdraw from the competition. This injury highlighted the importance of proper warm-up, conditioning, and recovery techniques in order to prevent strains and other injuries.


  • Dislocations commonly occur in large joints such as the shoulder, elbow, hip, and knee.

  • They can cause damage to ligaments, tendons, blood vessels, and nerves surrounding the joint.

  • Treatment for dislocations involves reducing the joint back into its proper position and immobilizing it with a splint or other supportive device.

It is essential to seek medical attention promptly if you suspect a dislocation. Delayed treatment can lead to complications such as nerve and blood vessel damage. It is important to remember that attempting to relocate a dislocated joint on your own can cause further injury.

In some cases, dislocations may require surgical intervention to repair damaged structures or prevent recurrent dislocations. Therefore, it is crucial to follow up with a healthcare professional for proper diagnosis and management of this type of injury.

Benefits and Limitations of Splints

When it comes to splints, it’s crucial to understand both their benefits and limitations.

Benefits of Using Splints

First, splints immobilize fractures, sprains, strains, and dislocations. By restricting movement and providing external support, they allow the affected area to heal properly.

Second, splints protect injured limbs from further damage or injury. They act as a shield by preventing accidental bumps or movements that could aggravate the existing condition.

Splints promote proper alignment of bones and joints. They help maintain the correct position of fractured bones or twisted joints, enhancing the healing process.

In addition to these benefits, it is worth noting that splints come in a variety of types to suit different injuries and body parts. Each type offers its own advantages based on specific needs.

Limitations of Splints

Splints have certain limitations that are important to consider when using them for injury treatment. - Splints may not provide enough stability for severe fractures or dislocations.

In such cases, a cast or surgery may be necessary to ensure proper healing and alignment of the bones. - Splints can be bulky and restrict movement, which can make it difficult for individuals to perform certain activities. This can impact their ability to carry out daily tasks or engage in physical rehabilitation.

Splints are generally not waterproof, which means that they cannot be worn while showering or swimming. This can be inconvenient for individuals who require constant splinting. Despite these limitations, splints are still a valuable tool in the management of various injuries.

They provide support and immobilization to injured body parts, promoting healing and preventing further damage. It is important to follow proper splint application techniques and seek medical attention if there are any signs of complications or worsening symptoms.

There was a case where a patient with a severe wrist fracture was initially treated with a splint. However, due to the complexity of the fracture and the limitations of the splint in providing adequate stability, the patient required surgery to properly realign the bones and ensure optimal healing. This highlights the importance of recognizing the limitations of splints and seeking appropriate treatment when necessary. Applying a splint is like wrapping a gift, except the recipient is a broken bone.

How to Apply a Splint

When it comes to applying a splint, understanding the proper steps and techniques is crucial for an effective and successful outcome. I will walk you through the step-by-step process of applying a splint, ensuring that you have the knowledge to handle such situations with confidence.

Additionally, I will provide you with valuable tips and advice for proper splint application, based on expert recommendations and real-life experiences. So, let's dive in and equip ourselves with the necessary skills to apply a splint effectively.

In addition to these steps, remember to seek medical attention if there is severe pain, visible deformity, open wounds, numbness, tingling sensations, or difficulty moving the affected limb.

When faced with an emergency situation requiring immediate help, call emergency services right away for professional assistance.

General Care Tips

care steps for splints

To ensure proper care and maintenance of your splint, here are some essential guidelines that you should follow:

  • Avoid getting the splint wet, as moisture can compromise its structural integrity and lead to skin irritation.

  • Keep the splint clean by gently wiping it with a damp cloth or using mild soap and water. Avoid harsh chemicals or abrasive materials.

  • Avoid scratching or inserting any objects beneath the splint, as this can cause skin damage or increase discomfort.

  • Elevate the affected limb whenever possible to reduce swelling and promote blood circulation.

  • Follow any specific instructions provided by your healthcare professional regarding the use and care of the splint.

In addition to these general care tips, it is crucial to be aware of any unique details related to your particular splint and injury. Your healthcare provider may provide additional instructions specific to your situation.

It is important to note that these general care tips may vary depending on the type of splint you have been prescribed. Therefore, always consult with your healthcare professional for personalized advice.

Finally, remember that proper care of your splint can significantly contribute to its effectiveness in supporting and protecting the injured area.

Dealing with Itching and Irritation From A Splint

Itching and irritation can be common discomforts associated with wearing a splint. However, there are several effective ways to manage these symptoms and alleviate the discomfort they bring.

Dealing with Itching and Irritation:

  • Keep the skin clean and dry: Maintaining good hygiene is crucial in preventing irritation. Gently clean the skin around the splint with mild soap and water, ensuring that it is completely dry before wearing the splint again.

  • Avoid scratching: While it can be tempting to scratch the itchy area, doing so may aggravate the irritation and potentially damage the skin. Instead, gently tap or pat the itchy spot to help relieve the sensation.

  • Use cool compresses: Applying a cool compress or an ice pack wrapped in a cloth can provide temporary relief by numbing the area. This can also help reduce any inflammation or swelling associated with itching.

  • Wear loose clothing: Wearing loose-fitting clothing over the splint can help prevent friction, which can exacerbate itching. Opt for breathable fabrics that allow air circulation to promote comfort.

  • Talk to your doctor: If itching or irritation persists despite these measures, it is important to consult your doctor. They may recommend specific anti-itch creams or other interventions to provide relief tailored to your individual needs.

It is important to remember that everyone's experience with itching and irritation may differ, and what works for one person may not work for another. Therefore, it is essential to seek professional guidance if symptoms persist or worsen despite self-care measures.

Showering with a splint: where hygiene and waterproofing come together for the ultimate balancing act.

Potential Complications of Splints

When it comes to splints, it's important to be aware of the potential complications that may arise. As someone who has delved into the subject, I can share that understanding the intricacies of bone movement is crucial to ensure effective splinting. Additionally, skin irritation can be a common concern that must be addressed.

Furthermore, joint stiffness, burns, neurovascular injury, and the risk of compartment syndrome are potential complications that require careful consideration. Exploring these aspects will give us a comprehensive understanding of the potential challenges associated with splinting.

Joint Stiffness

When joints become stiff, it can have a significant impact on movement and function. Stiffness in the joints limits the range of motion and can cause discomfort or pain during any attempt to move.

Joint stiffness often occurs as a result of underlying conditions such as arthritis or previous joint injuries. Inflammatory forms of arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis, can lead to joint stiffness due to inflammation in the joint lining. In other cases, joint stiffness may develop gradually over time as a result of wear and tear on the cartilage within the joint.

In addition to limiting movement, joint stiffness can also affect overall quality of life. Simple tasks that require flexibility and mobility become challenging and sometimes impossible. Individuals experiencing joint stiffness often find it difficult to perform daily activities such as walking, climbing stairs, or even gripping objects.

One woman named Sarah struggled with joint stiffness in her wrists as a result of rheumatoid arthritis. The stiffness made it difficult for her to perform everyday tasks like writing or cooking. However, with proper medical intervention and treatment, she was able to regain some mobility in her wrists through stretching exercises and medication. Sarah's story highlights the importance of seeking medical attention for joint stiffness and finding appropriate treatments.

Overall, joint stiffness is a common symptom experienced by individuals with various underlying conditions. It affects mobility and function but can be managed through proper medical care and interventions tailored to each individual's needs. Seeking timely medical attention is crucial for preventing further complications and improving quality of life for those affected by joint stiffness.

Compartment Syndrome

  • Compartment Syndrome arises when there is an increase in the size or volume of the contents within a confined space, such as muscle swelling.

  • This condition commonly occurs after severe trauma, fractures, crush injuries, or excessive exercise.

  • Symptoms of Compartment Syndrome include severe pain that worsens with movement, swelling, numbness or tingling, and weakness or difficulty moving the affected area.

  • If left untreated, Compartment Syndrome can lead to permanent nerve damage and loss of function.

It is crucial to note that immediate medical attention should be sought if symptoms suggestive of Compartment Syndrome develop. Prompt diagnosis and treatment are essential to prevent irreversible damage.


happy woman

Splints are essential tools in the medical field for immobilizing and supporting injured limbs. They provide stability and protection, allowing the body to heal properly. Proper application and usage of splints can greatly assist in the recovery process. Additionally, it is crucial to regularly check the splint for any signs of discomfort or complications. By following these guidelines, healthcare professionals can ensure the best outcomes for their patients.

Remember, the right splint can make a significant difference in the healing process and patient comfort.

Some Facts About Splints:

  • ✅ Splints are supportive devices that protect broken bones or injuries and promote healing. (Source: Team Research)

  • ✅ Splints can be either flexible or rigid, depending on the type of injury and body part involved. (Source: Team Research)

  • ✅ Casts and splints are orthopedic devices that support and protect injuries, but casts provide more support than splints. (Source: Team Research)

  • ✅ Splints can be used alone or before a cast, and they are often used for injuries with a lot of swelling. (Source: Team Research)

  • ✅ Complications of splints can include bone movement, skin irritation, joint stiffness, burns, neurovascular injury, and compartment syndrome. (Source: Team Research)

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a splint and how does it differ from a cast?

A splint is a hard wrap that supports and protects broken bones or injuries. It keeps the injured area still, aids in pain relief, and promotes healing. Unlike casts, splints can be flexible or rigid and may not wrap completely around the injury. Casts, on the other hand, are custom-made, completely enclose the injury, and provide more support.

When are splints used and what injuries can they treat?

Splints are used in various types of injuries both before and without the need for a cast. They are commonly used in cases of swelling, suspected occult fractures, soft tissue injuries, tendon injuries, and for partial immobilization of extremities to protect injured bones.

How do I take care of a splint?

To take care of your splint, follow your doctor's instructions regarding its removal and weight-bearing limitations. Additionally, you should elevate the injured limb to reduce swelling, apply ice for short intervals, avoid getting the splint wet, maintain muscle strength through specific exercises, refrain from scratching under the splint, and protect the splint from oils and lotions. You can use cool air to relieve itching and cover the splint during showering if removable.

What are the signs that I should call my doctor regarding my splint?

If you experience numbness, tingling, stinging, or a burning sensation near the injury, worsening pain, a damaged or wet splint, drainage, pus, or a bad smell coming from the splint, difficulty moving your fingers or toes, discolored or cold skin around the splint, a feeling of tightness, or a fever, it is advisable to contact your doctor for further evaluation and guidance.

What are the potential complications of using splints?

Complications from splints can range from minor to severe. They may include bone movement, skin irritation, joint stiffness, burns from the splint material, neurovascular injury, and the rare but serious condition known as compartment syndrome. Compartment syndrome is characterized by symptoms such as numbness, muscle pain, severe pain with muscle stretching, swelling, muscle tightness, and a burning or tingling sensation in the skin.

What is the difference between a splint and a half-cast?

A splint is also referred to as a half-cast. While both provide support and protection, a half-cast, or a splint, does not offer as much support as a full cast. The hard part of a splint does not fully wrap around the injury and is secured in place using an elastic bandage or similar material.


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