Down and Dirty with Splinting and Casting

Post by Jennifer Reinovsky
This week’s Medicine and Society coursework included a Splinting and Casting workshop. I have to admit, we had a blast!

After attending a brief lecture reviewing anatomic and material basics, our class migrated upstairs in gym clothes to practice applying splints to one another. We typically dress professionally for school, but this was a special occasion, as we were to be using potentially messy fiberglass splinting materials on one another.

This was team learning at its finest! Two students paired up and sat at a table with another student pair. Every two tables had an emergency medicine, orthopedist, or orthopedic surgeon advisor migrating between the students to assist. Simulation lab faculty helped keep our tables stocked with materials so we could spend all morning learning how to splint upper extremities and all afternoon on lower extremities.

Splinting and casting is a step-by-step process. The base layer of a cast or splint is something called Stockinette. It’s stretchy like hosiery, but made from a breathable cotton material and used to create traction on a limb. Strategically cut Stockinette was placed onto each partner’s hand and forearm. Then, that same area was wrapped with cotton padding to help prevent patient discomfort and burns from the fiberglass splinting material. We then cut appropriate sized fiberglass cast tape, wet it, and manually molded it around various parts of each partner’s arm, depending on what kind of injury we were learning to splint.

All of this had to happen before the fiberglass splinting material set in place. To help keep the cast tape in place while it set, we wrapped every new masterpiece with Ace bandages. Throughout the course of the workshop, each student was able to fit his or her partner with a minimum of six splints. Partners swapped back and forth, with one being the “patient” and the other serving as the physician immobilizing any “broken bones,” until both individuals had completed all six splints.

As the fiberglass splint set, the patient could really feel warmth coming from chemical reactions that eventually hardened the splint. I enjoyed being a patient because this warming sensation felt like some kind of fancy spa treatment. This hands-on learning really helped solidify basics about casting and splinting, while priming everyone’s brains for future related material. The orthopedic surgeon functioning as my group’s splinting advisor, Dr. Robert Wood, proved endlessly patient as he offered tips for improving our technique.

I don’t know what kind of physician I want to be and I don’t feel particularly inclined toward an orthopedic direction, but I learned that numerous primary care and specialty physicians can be involved with splinting or casting on a daily basis. This workshop was a welcome companion to the musculoskeletal focus of our other coursework this week! I reflected on the relevance of this clinical skill lab, while continuing through Muscle Physiology, Arm Anatomy, Connective Tissue Histology, Arm Radiology, and Limb Development lectures all week.