What is an Air Cast?

Mike Howells

An air cast is a medical device that encases a healing body part in a cushioned casing, reducing pain and promoting healing. Typically, it consists of two basic components, an air-filled splint that is surrounded by a hardened exterior shell. Unlike traditional hard plaster or fiberglass casts, air casts may be removed for washing, and trade off total rigidity for comfort and convenience.

Air cast boots are made made in standard shoes sizes so that they fit a patient correctly.
Air cast boots are made made in standard shoes sizes so that they fit a patient correctly.

Air-filled casts are an option available for strain, sprain, and bone fracture recovery. They have changed little since since their inception, and are still used almost exclusively used for hand, wrist, foot, and lower leg injuries. Their inner, air-filled bladders may be inflated, by mouth or a pump, to the required level of cushioning, while the hard plastic exterior frame is tightened and typically held in place with metal or plastic Velcro® fasteners.

Wrist casts are generally produced in small, medium, and large specifications.
Wrist casts are generally produced in small, medium, and large specifications.

Like a hard cast, an air cast attempts to promote healing by reducing the shock of potential impacts, while keeping bones and joints in a specific position so they can heal properly. While not customized on a per-patient basis like a hard cast, these come in different sizes so a comfortable fit should be attainable in almost all situations. Air boots are manufactured in shoe sizes, making a correct fit that much easier to determine. Wrist casts are generally produced in small, medium, and large specifications.

Someone with an air cast might need a cane to help them walk.
Someone with an air cast might need a cane to help them walk.

In addition to added comfort, using an air cast can help avoid some of the negative side effects that come with a hard cast. Since they are not removable, extended wear of a hard cast often results in mild to moderate dermatological problems. Beyond the drying and scaling of unwashed skin, dermatitis, ulcers, and rashes are not uncommon in patients wearing a hard cast. Fiberglass and plaster casts are also quite heavy and physically cumbersome, whereas air casts, being largely hollow, save for the rigid outer shell, are much lighter and easier to move around in.

Unlike the traditional foot cast, an air cast boot can be removed.
Unlike the traditional foot cast, an air cast boot can be removed.

The typical prescription for wearing an air cast varies depending on the body part and the severity of the injury. Mild to moderate sprains, and even some minor bone fractures, may only need days or weeks of such restriction and protection. In more severe situations, such as when a weight-bearing bone — like the tibia — is broken, a hard cast is still necessary for an initial period. After this, an air cast can be used for the remainder of the healing process. Depending on the state of healing, patients may walk, and sometimes are even cleared to drive, while wearing an air cast.

An air cast is used to stabilize broken bones, which may be confirmed via x-ray.
An air cast is used to stabilize broken bones, which may be confirmed via x-ray.
A hard cast may lead to leg ulcers and other skin conditions that can be avoided using an air cast.
A hard cast may lead to leg ulcers and other skin conditions that can be avoided using an air cast.
In some cases, patients must be casted for several weeks before an air cast is used.
In some cases, patients must be casted for several weeks before an air cast is used.

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Discussion Comments

anon998268

I just fractured my ankle a week ago. I have the air cast boot. I was told I could take it off for a shower. I was also told to sleep in it. If you sleep in it, it was suggested to me to cover it with an old pillow case to help keep the bed clean. I was told that when I feel I can start taking it off for very short periods, go ahead and try. On the other hand, he said I wouldn't want to do this for at least three or four weeks.

anon951425

I'd say that for fractures and breaks, treat it like a regular cast that you just happen to be able to remove for showers. Don't take it off for any reason except for bathing. That's what I've been doing, at least.

anon346044

I have the same questions and have found no answer to them!

anon166363

the airboot is great and because I live alone it gives me freedom. My only complaint is because the hospital gave me conflicting info. No matter how much I read regarding the boot, it doesn't say whether you sleep in the boot, take it off when you arrive home or how long you can walk around in it as I was told not to stand in it. I have a fractured 5th metatarsal. --Rachel

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