The medical practice of immobilizing fractured limbs with a cast has been around for a long, long time. Researchers uncovered that the earliest known surgical text, “The Edwin Smith Papyrus,” circa 1600 B.C., describes the ancient Egyptians using self-setting bandages.

The plaster casts we’re familiar with today had their origins in the beginning of the 19th century. The development of fiberglass casting tape in the 1970s led to the fiberglass cast that’s currently in wide use.

There are two main types of casts, plaster and fiberglass.

Plaster casts

  • often less expensive
  • easier to mold for some applications

Fiberglass casts

  • lighter
  • more durable
  • more water resistant
  • more easily penetrated by X-rays
  • available in a variety of colors and patterns

Also, a fiberglass cast can result in reduced sweating under the cast. This can improve comfort and, over time, lead to less odor developing than in a plaster cast.

A new waterproof cast lining was developed in the 1990s for both plaster and fiberglass casts. This new lining combined with a fiberglass cast means a completely waterproof cast. That makes it possible for you to bathe, shower, and swim while wearing a cast.

But the problem is that water and soap can get stuck between the cast and skin. This can lead to possible maceration of the skin under the cast. Maceration is when the skin stays moist for too long, making it appear lighter and wrinkly. It can increase your risk of infections.

Although a fiberglass cast can get wet, the typical padding underneath can’t. So, if you want a fully waterproof cast, you must discuss it with your doctor. They can determine whether a waterproof liner is appropriate for your specific situation.

This waterproof cast liner typically increases the cost of the cast. It can also increase the time needed to apply the cast.

Here are some tips for maintaining and caring for your fiberglass cast:

  • Pressure. Keep pressure and weight off your cast. If you have a walking cast for a leg injury, don’t walk on it until it’s fully hardened.
  • Toiletries. Keep lotion, deodorant, and powder from getting on or too close to your cast.
  • Dirt. Keep sand and dirt from getting inside your cast.
  • Adjustments. Don’t break off rough edges or adjust the padding without first checking with your doctor.
  • Moisture. If you need to dry your cast, inside or out, try using your hair dryer on the cool setting. Be very careful doing this, though. The hot setting can burn the skin under the cast.
  • Itching. Don’t pour anti-itch creams in the cast or try to scratch inside the cast with any object. Try using a hair dryer on the cool setting instead.
  • Repair. If you notice a crack, call your doctor. Don’t try to fix it yourself.
  • Removal. Don’t attempt to remove the cast yourself. Your doctor will do it, typically using an oscillating saw that breaks apart the rigid fiberglass (or plaster).

If you need your doctor to immobilize an injured limb, they might choose to cast it in plaster or fiberglass. Discuss your lifestyle with your doctor to help them pick the casting material that best fits your needs.

If appropriate, consider asking for a fully waterproof fiberglass cast. It might be more expensive and take more time to put on, but the ability to bathe, shower, and swim without making special accommodations might be worth it to you.