Factors contributing to the temperature beneath plaster or fiberglass cast material

J Orthop Surg Res. 2008 Feb 25:3:10. doi: 10.1186/1749-799X-3-10.

Abstract

Background: Most cast materials mature and harden via an exothermic reaction. Although rare, thermal injuries secondary to casting can occur. The purpose of this study was to evaluate factors that contribute to the elevated temperature beneath a cast and, more specifically, evaluate the differences of modern casting materials including fiberglass and prefabricated splints.

Methods: The temperature beneath various types (plaster, fiberglass, and fiberglass splints), brands, and thickness of cast material were measured after they were applied over thermometer which was on the surface of a single diameter and thickness PVC tube. A single layer of cotton stockinette with variable layers and types of cast padding were placed prior to application of the cast. Serial temperature measurements were made as the cast matured and reached peak temperature. Time to peak, duration of peak, and peak temperature were noted. Additional tests included varying the dip water temperature and assessing external insulating factors. Ambient temperature, ambient humidity and dip water freshness were controlled.

Results: Outcomes revealed that material type, cast thickness, and dip water temperature played key roles regarding the temperature beneath the cast. Faster setting plasters achieved peak temperature quicker and at a higher level than slower setting plasters. Thicker fiberglass and plaster casts led to greater peak temperature levels. Likewise increasing dip-water temperature led to elevated temperatures. The thickness and type of cast padding had less of an effect for all materials. With a definition of thermal injury risk of skin injury being greater than 49 degrees Celsius, we found that thick casts of extra fast setting plaster consistently approached dangerous levels (greater than 49 degrees for an extended period). Indeed a cast of extra-fast setting plaster, 20 layers thick, placed on a pillow during maturation maintained temperatures over 50 degrees of Celsius for over 20 minutes.

Conclusion: Clinicians should be cautious when applying thick casts with warm dip water. Fast setting plasters have increased risk of thermal injury while brand does not appear to play a significant role. Prefabricated fiberglass splints appear to be safer than circumferential casts. The greatest risk of thermal injury occurs when thick casts are allowed to mature while resting on pillow.