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Skin Surface Pressure Beneath an Above-the-Knee Cast: Plaster Casts Compared with Fiberglass Casts*
JON R. DAVIDS, M.D.†, GREENVILLE; STEVE L. FRICK, M.D.‡, CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA; ED SKEWES, C.P.O.†; DAWN W. BLACKHURST, M.S.§, GREENVILLE, SOUTH CAROLINA
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Investigation performed at Shriners Hospital for Children, Greenville; Carolinas Medical Center, Charlotte; and the Division of Medical Education and Research, Greenville Hospital System, Greenville
J Bone Joint Surg Am, 1997 Apr 01;79(4):565-9
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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 fiberglass 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 plaster cast and it better accommodated simulated swelling without the need to sacrifice the structural integrity of the cast.

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    These activities have been planned and implemented in accordance with the Essential Areas and policies of the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (ACCME) through the joint sponsorship of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons and The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, Inc. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons is accredited by the ACCME to provide continuing medical education for physicians.
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