What to Know About Splints

Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on February 06, 2024
7 min read

A splint is a device that supports and protects a broken bone or injured tissue. Also known as a brace or an orthosis, it helps reduce pain and promote healing by keeping the injured part of your body still. Some splints are flexible and some are rigid. The type you need will depend on the kind of injury you have and which part of your body is affected.


Casts and splints are both orthopedic devices that keep injured ligaments, bones, tendons, and other tissues still so they can heal. But they're different in several ways.

Casts provide more rigid support than splints. They're made of hard materials like plaster or fiberglass and are custom-made to fit your body. A cast wraps completely around your injury. It's not adjustable. It has to be put on by a doctor and must also be removed in your doctor's office.

Splints are sometimes called half-casts. They help lessen pain, reduce swelling, and prevent movement like casts, but with more flexible support. The firm part of a splint doesn't wrap all the way around your injury, and it's held in place with an elastic bandage or other material. Some splints are ready-made. Others are custom-fit. While some types may need a doctor to put on, they can be adjusted or removed at home.

You might need to wear a splint because of a: 

  • Strained muscle
  • Sprain
  • Tendinitis (inflamed or injured tendon)
  • Ligament injury
  • Broken bone
  • Dislocated joint 
  • Arthritis
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome and other conditions that compress your nerves
  • Peripheral neuropathy 
  • Condition that affects your nervous system, like multiple sclerosis or cerebral palsy
  • Condition that affects your joints like Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome
  • Severe burn
  • Puncture wound or bite
  • Wound that goes across a joint

It's also common to need a splint after surgery to your bones, muscles, or joints.

Splints and casts are sometimes used together. For instance, if you've broken a bone in your leg, you might be put into a splint until the area is less swollen and you can be fitted for a cast.

The kind of splint you need depends on which body part you've injured. Some examples include:

Forearm/wrist splints

  • Dorsal forearm: One study found that children with wrist fractures healed just as fast in this bendable aluminum splint as they would in a cast.
  • Single sugar tong: A doctor wraps different materials around your wrist and lower arm to prevent them from moving.

Forearm/elbow splints

  • Long arm posterior: Your elbow will stay bent at a 90-degree angle in this type of splint. You'll still be able to move your lower arm.
  • Double sugar-tong: This splint extends from your hand all the way to your upper arm.

Knee splints

  • Immobilizer: A heavy foam and cloth wrap is strapped securely around most of your leg to protect your knee. Removable rigid straps offer extra support.
  • Posterior knee splint: To help reduce pain and swelling, your doctor may put you in this splint before you have surgery.

Lower leg splints:

  • Bulky Jones: This soft, padded leg splint compresses the injured area and limits your movement. It's sometimes used after surgery.

Ankle splints

  • Posterior ankle splint: This splint goes up your leg like a knee sock, but your toes are uncovered.
  • Walking boot: If you break your ankle, a flexible, removable boot may help it heal as well as a cast.
  • Sugar-tong ankle splint: You'll need crutches and won't be able to put any weight on your leg in this stiff device.

Hand or finger:

  • Finger splint: Some splints keep only your injured finger still but allow you to move the rest.
  • Ulnar gutter: One reason for this splint is if you fracture or hurt your little finger.
  • Radial gutter: This splint immobilizes your index and ring fingers.
  • Thumb spica: If you have this type, your thumb and fingers will be curved as if you were holding a soda can.

Depending on the type of splint you need, it could be made from materials like:

  • Stockinette (breathable knit bandage)
  • Elastic bandage
  • Thick cotton padding
  • Fiberglass
  • Plaster
  • Plastic
  • Aluminum
  • Foam
  • Medical tape

Categories of splints 

Splints generally comes in four types:

  • Static: This type of splint doesn't allow you to move a specific body part at all. 
  • Serial static: Your injured tissues are stretched out to protect your range of motion.
  • Static progressive: Although you can't move the hurt body part, your doctor can adjust the splint as you heal.
  • Dynamic: This splint allows your doctor to decide how much you can use the affected body part. That can change over time. 

Types of fits 

Your doctor will also need to decide how to fit you for a splint.

Prefab: Some splints are prefabricated (ready-made). You may see some kinds on the shelf at grocery stores or pharmacies. Prefab splints often cost the least, and are the simplest to put on and take off.

Custom-fitted: If you're in a doctor's office or ER, your doctor can use special techniques to apply a splint and make sure it fits well.

Custom-fabricated: Some splints can be custom-made. The injured body part will need to be carefully measured to get an exact fit. 

How to make a splint at home

In an emergency, you can create a makeshift splint at home. It can help protect an injury and keep it from getting worse until you see a doctor. To do so:

  • Clean and cover any open wound.
  • Don't try to move the injured body part. Splint it in the position it's in.
  • Place something firm, like a stick, underneath the injured area. Folded clothing or a small blanket are options, too. Whatever you use should extend past the joints on either side of the injury. This will ensure the area stays still. If you're making a homemade finger splint, make sure it's long enough to also protect the fingertip.
  • Keep the stick, clothing, or blanket in place with household items like straps of cloth, tape, a belt, or a necktie. Don't make them too tight. You don't want to cut off blood flow to the area. If the area swells, gets numb, or loses color, loosen the splint right away.
  • Go to the ER as soon as you can. 

If you suspect a broken hip or pelvic bone, don't move. Instead, call 911.

If you have a splint, follow your doctor's guidelines. They'll tell you if you can walk or put weight on the splinted area, what activities you can do, and when it's safe to remove the splint. Other care tips include: 

  • Keep it clean. Avoid dirt and sand, which can slip underneath your splint.
  • Try not to rearrange or remove any layers of your splint. If you have a question about part of it sticking out or coming loose, call your doctor.
  • Place your arm or leg on a pillow above the level of your heart as often as you can over the first 3 days to help reduce swelling. 
  • Ice the limb for 10 to 20 minutes every 1 to 2 hours for the first 3 days or until the swelling goes down.
  • Don't get your splint wet. If you need to shower with it on, cover it with a garbage bag and duct tape. If you can remove your splint to take a shower, dry your skin well before you put it back on. 
  • Wiggle your fingers or toes if they aren't injured to help move the blood in your injured limb. 
  • Talk to your doctor about how to maintain your muscle strength while you're in a splint. 
  • Don't stick anything under your splint to scratch. If you're itching and can't remove it, try blowing cool air under your splint with a hair dryer or fan.
  • Don't use oils or lotions near your splint.  
  • If your splint rubs against your skin, pad the edges with moleskin strips (a heavy cotton fabric that's used to prevent blisters) or folded-over pieces of tape. 

You may have to wear your splint for several days to several weeks. If you have an ongoing condition, your doctor could advise you to wear a splint for longer than that. For instance, if you have carpal tunnel syndrome, you may need to have a splinted hand for certain activities, like sleeping or working on a computer. 

If you have any of the following symptoms, call your doctor: 

  • Numbness, tingling, stinging, or burning on or near the injured area
  • Worsening pain
  • Damaged, wet, or broken splint
  • Drainage, pus, or bleeding
  • A bad smell coming from your splint
  • Trouble moving your fingers or toes
  • If the skin around your splint becomes discolored, pale, gray, or cold to the touch 
  • Your splint feels too tight
  • You develop a fever

Complications from splints can range from minor to severe, and may include: 

Bone movement. If you have a fracture that's been set, your bones may move out of place. 

Skin breakdown. Pressure or friction from your splint can cause pressure sores or other types of skin redness or irritation. 

Stiffness in your joint. Your joint may become stiff after being held still in a splint. 

Burns. Fiberglass and plaster splints can cause heat burns. 

Neurovascular injury. Some dislocated and broken bones can damage your nerves or arteries when they're repaired.

Muscle atrophy. When you don't use your muscles for a while, they can start to break down.

Compartment syndrome. Rarely, the pressure in your muscles can build up so much that it interferes with blood flow to your muscles and nerves. This happens more often with casts than splints. Compartment syndrome can cause serious injury or death, so it's important to know the symptoms:

  • Numbness
  • Muscle pain that's worse than you'd expect from your injury
  • Severe pain when you stretch your muscle
  • Swelling of the muscle
  • A feeling of fullness of the muscle
  • Muscle tightness
  • Burning or tingling sensation in your skin

If you have an injured body part, your doctor may want you to wear a splint for support. Follow their advice on when to wear it, when it's safe to remove, and how to keep your splint clean. Complications from wearing a splint are rare, but know the signs to look out for and call your doctor right away if you spot them.