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Walking with a cast

Wearing a cast on any part of your leg can make getting around a challenge. In addition to the pain of a bone fracture, a cast can feel like a hindrance and irritation. Navigating life in a leg cast takes some practice, planning, and patience. These practical tips will help you get back to your normal life while you wait for the cast to come off.

Walking with crutches can be daunting at first. It can take quite a bit of stamina and require breaks to rest.

To deal with the crutches themselves:

  • Consider adding extra cushion to the top of the crutch. This can cut down on soreness under your arms. For a DIY solution, cut pieces from a foam pool noodle that are as long as the top part of your crutch. Slice through one side of the noodle and slide your crutch into the part you’ve cut open. You can also purchase crutch pillows and accessories online and try a hip bag for carrying small necessities with you.
  • Always wear non-skid shoes when using crutches, even in the house.
  • Keep crutches adjusted to the proper height for you. If you’re barefoot or in socks for a period of time, adjust the height of your crutches.
  • Wipe crutches clean often with antibacterial wipes.

You can also use strategic thinking to make healing with a leg cast on less limiting.

  • Set up stations around your home. Group your medication, water, and snacks at various points around your house where you spend the most time. This can help limit the amount of time you have to move through your home and, potentially, moving up and down any stairs.
  • Clear the space through the main part of your home so you can move easily through it. Have a plan in case of emergency so you can quickly get out of your home if you need to.
  • Identify rest points at places you plan to visit. Call ahead to places you plan to go, like restaurants, museums, and hotels, to ask about disability access. Remember that when you ask these kinds of questions, you aren’t just helping yourself – you’re advocating for other people, too.
  • If you work in a building with multiple floors or levels, let the doorman or manager of the building know that you’re on crutches. If there’s a fire or other emergency in the building, someone needs to be alerted that there’s a person who can’t use the stairs and needs assistance.

While you might plan to walk a bit every day to promote circulation and prevent bone loss and muscle atrophy, walking will always present a challenge when you’re wearing a cast. Plan around your cast so you have assistance for the things you need to do standing up, such as getting dressed, going to appointments, showering, or bathing.

The material your cast is made of will impact the way you need to care for it. The two most common types of cast are plaster and synthetic, or fiberglass.

Plaster casts can’t get wet or the plaster will disintegrate. Fiberglass casts should be kept dry, but a small bit of moisture from sweat, rain, or stray shower droplets can be dried off with a paper towel.

Wear a cast boot or a cast sandal to prevent the surface of your cast from getting too dirty. You can use a damp cloth to wipe dirt off your cast if it’s made of fiberglass.

Shop for cast boots and covers online.

Taking care of your cast and the skin beneath it is essential for proper healing of your leg injury.

If your cast makes your foot feel sweaty or itchy, resist the urge to stick something down into your cast. Your skin is fragile as it heals, and you may break your skin barrier by trying to itch or clean underneath the cast. Instead, consider dropping a small amount of baking soda between the cast and your skin to kill bacteria and keep the cast from smelling unpleasant.

Don’t stick toilet tissue or paper towels down into the cast. It could get trapped and reduce blood circulation, which you need to heal your wound.

Check the skin around your cast daily to make sure the cast isn’t too tight or too loose. If your skin becomes irritated or cracked around the site of your cast, speak to your doctor.

After your cast comes off, your leg might look a little different. Your skin may appear to be dry, flaky, and pale. The leg that was injured may be thinner than the other leg, as you may have lost muscle mass.

  • Treat your skin gently at first. Soak your skin in lukewarm bath water and lock in moisture with a fragrance-free lotion to get rid of dry skin.
  • If you have scabbing from your injury, rub it gently with a towel. Never pick off a scab before it’s ready to come off.
  • If you normally shave your legs, hold off for at least a few days. Your skin layer may need some air exposure before it’s ready for the tugging and pulling of shaving hair with a razor or dealing with any chemical hair removers.

Ask your doctor about caring for your injury before you leave your removal appointment. Everyone’s treatment plan will be different, and sometimes your doctor won’t know what to recommend until they can see how your leg has healed under the cast. The muscles in your leg may need to ease back into regular activity.

Specific questions for your doctor may include:

  • Do I need to use a splint or continue to use a walking boot after cast removal? If so, how long do you recommend using it?
  • Will physical therapy be necessary to continue healing? How often should I go? Who do you recommend?
  • Are there any massage techniques or heat therapies that you recommend for home treatment?
  • What should I be looking for as I continue to heal? Are there any specific symptoms that you’d like me to watch for?

Walking on your cast increases circulation to the area of your injury, which can promote healing of your broken bone. Walking on your cast also keeps you from losing bone mass. Even brief periods of walking while you’re in a cast can help prevent bone loss.

Every injury is different. Casts aim to immobilize your point of injury so your bone can fuse back together. A severe fibular fracture or trimalleolar fracture may require additional rest time before you should attempt walking, for instance. Your age, pain level, and risk of complications will shape your doctor’s advice about how soon you should try to walk on your cast.

Time spent in a cast can be frustrating, but most people don’t need to wear one for more than six weeks. Speak to your doctor if you notice any of the following symptoms:

  • your toes or lower leg appear to lose sensation or turn blue
  • you can’t wiggle your toes
  • swelling appears or becomes worse
  • your cast becomes loose
  • you have itching inside of your cast that won’t stop

After your cast comes off, be sure to perform any rehabilitation exercises, wear a walking cast or brace, and ask for any follow-up guidance from your doctor if you need it.