What Is a Thermoplastic Splint?

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  • Written By: Andrew Kirmayer
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 22 January 2019
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Splints have been used often throughout history to treat injuries. They usually keep a limb, for example, immobile while an injury is healing. A thermoplastic splint is typically light and can be molded to fit a body part. The plastic is usually shaped by heating it, while when cool it retains that shape if kept on or taken off. One can usually remove a thermoplastic splint to clean it, or to take a bath, for example.

A thermoplastic splint typically has a front and back section, which completely surrounds a hand or arm, or other section of the body. Manufacturers generally need an assessment of the problem and the area the splints are used in to create the best fit. Goals of the treatment often have to be addressed, while skin characteristics such as fragility, wounds, and circulation problems are usually considered. The types of splints that are made of thermoplastic can also be designed to accommodate bones near the skin, the need for sensation, as well as any pain one may be in.


Whatever kind of thermoplastic the splint is made of can also depend on the problem, age of a patient, and the location to be treated. One variety might be suited for a finger or the wrist or elbow, while a more rigid splint is often needed for the leg or large surfaces around the body trunk. A thermoplastic splint is sometimes made with perforated sheets to let the skin breathe. The holes usually allow for perspiration to get out as well; otherwise the skin can be permanently damaged if the splint is worn for a long time.

Materials used to make a thermoplastic splint can be heated with water, steam, or heat guns. Sometimes a special heating plate is used to accomplish the task. Depending on the material or type of splint, the process and required temperatures can vary; the finished product may still need to be adjusted and trimmed to fit or be comfortable to wear.

Sometimes a thermoplastic splint is attached using straps, which are often attached in a separate process. Other splints are fitted over a foam covering that surrounds the part of the body being treated. They typically consist of a rubber layer with thermoplastic on top; one version is designed to be remolded, by applying heat, as an injury heals. It can therefore be re-shaped for different stages of treatment for severe injuries, and when swelling decreases.


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Post 2

A thermoplastic cast has changed the way doctors splint broken bones. They still have to use the old fashioned casts -- even though they're not the heavy plaster they used to be. But, for a lot of fractures, they can use the thermoplastic casts, which are so much lighter and easier to deal with. After all, for a non-weight-bearing fracture, the main thing is to keep it immobilized so the bones can knit together. A thermoplastic cast does that just as well as the old kind.

One of my co-workers broke his tibia and was in a regular cast for two weeks, without bearing weight on his leg. After that, he was in a thermoplastic cast and got around on crutches. Seems like he had the cast off completely in about five weeks, but I don't remember for sure.

Post 1

My sister had a thermoplastic splint (also called an air cast) the last two weeks of her treatment when she broke her ankle. She had three weeks in a cast and couldn't put weight on her ankle; three weeks with a walking cast, and then two weeks with the thermoplastic cast.

She was so glad to get it! She hadn't been able to really take a shower, but she could take the air cast off to bathe. It was great. She also could scratch her leg when it itched, which she also couldn't do with the other cast. She walked with a cane for a couple of weeks, but was much happier.

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