Orthopedic injuries are very common but if these injuries are not treated right, it will cause discomfort throughout one’s life. During orthopedic injuries, it is necessary to temporarily immobilize the affected area to prevent further deterioration of the condition as well as provide comfort for the patient.
A splint is a device that enables one to stabilize the injured part. It is a device made up of rigid plastics or metals that keeps the injured dislocation part in place and protect it.
Although splints are usually used in the treatment of an acute fracture, it can also be used for injuries that are not severe enough. The use of splints in the treatment of tissue sprains, tendon injuries are increasing as immobilizing the area hastens recovery. The design of splints has space for swelling to occur and therefore this device lessens the risk of complications that might occur from swelling in a compact environment like in casts.
Why is a splint used?
The main use of the splint is to avoid further injury by avoiding any movement of the injured part, usually of an acute fracture but its use in the orthopedic community has been growing. There are different types of splints made of materials like hard plastic, metals, and fiberglass, which are available in shapes and sizes to fit into different body types and parts. The most common use of splints as of now are:
1. Immobilize a dislocation joint
2. Support aching joint
3. Support injured muscle
4. Support fractured bones
5. Induce rest to the affected area
6. Strengthen muscles
What are the 4 types of splints?
Splints, an orthopedic injury healing device, comes in mainly four different types used for different purposes.
Soft splints are splints used as first aid at home or by healthcare workers. It includes pillows, slings, and air splints which are mainly used for fractures of the lower arm and leg. Air splints allow compression and slow bleeding. These soft splints are helpful to aid recovery of dislocated parts of the body but these splints are not used in angulated fractures as it increases pressure. Soft splints are easily available and have an elementary mechanism of operation.
Hard splint, Hard splints are a type of splints used for extreme injuries. These splints range from being made up of simple materials like a cardboard box or a padded board to complex fiberglass material. Hard splints are made rigid by removing aid from a moldable material. There are padded with soft materials for comfort.
Traction splints, like any other splint, is used to support dislocation or fracture. Traction splints are mainly used for fractures in the femur and midshaft leg to provide support and decrease the amount of deformation caused due to the injury.
A self splint is a practice of using an uninjured part of the body as a splint. The injured body part is tied with an uninjured part of the body to provide support. Tying an injured finger to an uninjured finger is an example of this type of splint.
Principals to be followed while using a splint
There are different types of a splint and all of them have, although very simple, different mechanisms of application. For every type of splint the below-mentioned principles have to be applied:
1. Proper identification of the fracture site. If the pone is protruding out, it should not be pushed inside.
2. The bleeding should be stopped without moving or pressing the affected site
3. The fractured bone should be motionless. To do this, the adjoining joint should be kept motionless. If the lower arm is fractured, the wrist and elbow should not be moved. This principle should be applied to every other fractured bone.
4. The splint should not allow movement of the joint but should allow proper blood circulation. The patient should not feel pain due to the application of the splint.
5. If there is better help on the way, wait until the help arrives for the application of splint.
How to use a splint
The first thing that a provider has to do is to identify the fractured or dislocated area. After this is done, the patient should be moved to a calm place and made comfortable.
The next step is to is check for the color, sensation, and movement of the injured area. The color of the extremities has to be checked to see if there is blood flow in the area.
The patient might or might not be able to feel anything. The last thing to check is the movement of the joint. These have to be routinely checked even after the application of the splint.
When should a splint not be used?
Despite splints aiding the recovery of orthopedic injuries in a plethora of cases, there are a few scenarios listed below when the use of a splint should be avoided:
1. Splints should not be used if there is an open fracture
2. Splints should not be used on a wet surface
3. Splints should be avoided if the patient as syndromes like compartment syndrome or has conditions that compromise the neurovascular system of the body
4. Splints should not be used in case of a sympathetic dystrophy
Is a splint better than a cast?
Splints are also called half casts. These half casts provide less support compared to casts but are easy to use and adjust according to need. Casts on the other hand provide support and protection by completely immobilizing the joint.
A cast wraps an injury and can only be removed in by a medical professional. Casts provide extreme support but this does not mean that casts are better than splints. The choice of what is beneficial for the patient depends on the severity and type of injury.
So the debate is not splint or cast but rather when a splint and when a cast. Casts are made from fiberglass and can be molded into the required shape, which makes the patient feel comfortable but these casts can cause compartment syndrome as it does not leave space for swelling.
Although splints might hurt for the initial few days because of swelling, it allows proper reevaluation every few days to make adjustments accordingly.
What after a splint application?
Orthopedic injuries are painful and have a relatively slower recovery rate. Although splints are made to reduce the discomfort and hasten recovery, its application will be a new environment for the body, one that is is not used to and therefore the patient will feel constant discomfort for some time. After applying a splint the patient will likely notice swelling for almost two to three days.
To minimize this discomfort, it is advised to elevate the injured part timely and apply ice according to need.
The application of ice on split should be carried out in the order mentioned below :
1. The ice pack for icing has to be wrapped in a cloth or a non-wetting material that allows cooling but does not wet the splint
2. Regularly check for skin color and the sensation while applying a cold compress.
3. Do not increase the frequency of cold compress for more than once every 2 hours
How do you make a homemade splint? Step by step
The most important thing to do after an orthopedic injury is to hold the injured area without moving it. If nothing is available an impromptu splint can be made with easily available materials to stabilize the bone. To make a splint at home for various body parts
1. To make a splint for upper leg fractures use a hard surface like cardboard or a rolled-up newspaper to tie the leg with a soft cloth to it. This decreases the movement of the joint and thus decreases deterioration.
2. Immobilizing the joint of the torso or upper body needs placing blankets and pillows against a hard bed or earth and secure the patient with belts and ties.
3. For arm dislocation or fractures, a splint can be made by the use of a simple cloth and tie it around the neck to lessen movement.
4. The finger splint can be made by tying the injured finger with an uninjured finger.
How to take care of a splint?
Splints are helpful to hasten the recovery process of orthopedic injury. Although, applied to help the patient, if proper care is not taken of a splint it will cause adverse effects.
Below mentioned are some methods to take care of a splint :
1. The splint should be kept dry at all times. Showering should be done by covering the part with plastic or with a waterproof shield
2. Keep the splint clean at al times. Participate in fewer activities that make you sweat. Make sure that you do not keep it moist to keep the splint from smelling
3. Do not expose the splint from the extreme heat source as it might destroy its shape
4. Find a suitable position to sleep with you splint as taking it off might move the injured part. It is advised to put it on at all times
5. Exercising the joints nearby is important if the splint is to be kept for a long time
6. If there is swelling, the injured part should be elevated