Custom Splinting – Everything you Need to Know
What is a splint?
A splint is an external device manufactured or provided by hand therapists to support the upper limb following injury. Depending on the type, severity and progression of injury, splints can look different and serve different purposes.
As a general rule, splints are fitted to achieve one or more of the following goals:
Keep broken or injured bones from moving so they can heal properly
Support the soft tissues of the injured limb to help reduce pain and swelling
Prevent and/or assist relative movement
Protect structures following surgery
Correct or accomodate deformity
Assist in rehabilitation, and
What do we make our custom splints out of?
At AHHT, we make the majority of our customisable splints out of a material called thermoplastic. As the name suggests, thermoplastic is a plastic which becomes pliable above a certain temperature and solidifies when cooling. Thermoplastic can be heated and cooled a number of times without changing its mechanical properties or integrity, which is pretty handy for splint making!
And just HOW do we make these splints?
When making a custom splint, we will usually start by taking a pattern of your hand and sketching the splint design onto this to ensure it fits your specifications. We will then take a piece of thermoplastic (in your preferred colour of course!) roughly the same size as the splint we need, and heat this in a basin of hot water. When the thermoplastic becomes malleable, we will line our pattern up, cut out the splint, smooth and roll the edges and bring it over to your hand/arm/elbow/limb – ready to mould!
You’re going to mould hot plastic onto me?!
Never fear! When the splint is ready to be moulded, we wait until it is at the appropriate temperature to be applied to the skin. We also take extra precautions depending on your sensation, heat tolerance and even just personal preference.
Okay – so what do I need to do during the splinting process?
The thermoplastic will begin cooling and hardening as soon as it leaves the water, so your therapist will get to work positioning, shaping and moulding the splint as soon as it is on your limb.
All you need to do is sit tight, hold your limb in the right position as best you can and wait while we work our magic. By the end of your appointment you will have a snug, comfortable and supportive splint that will support your injury AND hopefully match your wardrobe!
Great! But what happens if things change and my splint is uncomfortable or doesn’t fit anymore?
As we mentioned before, the beauty of thermoplastic is that even once it is moulded, it can be heated up again and return to it’s flattened state – ready to be remoulded again! A lot of the time as you progress through recovery, you may lose some swelling or gain a bit more movement at your joints. During your appointments, we will take time to assess your splint fit and remould it to match your progress and ensure it is comfortable and functional.
We also like to say that wearing a splint is like wearing a new pair of shoes – they can be comfortable in the shop, but when you take them home and wear them in, you might just find one or two niggly spots. If you are given a splint which feels okay at the time, but start to bug you at home, don’t hesitate to call up the clinic and ask us to fix it up for you – no referral, appointment or payment needed!
Splint wear and care:
Your splint is waterproof and can be cleaned with a good wipe down using a wet cloth. If you don’t have a wound or any other contraindications, you can even wear your splint in the shower! Just make sure you dry both the splint and your arm before you put it back on, to prevent any skin breakdown from moisture. Really, our biggest rule for splint maintenance is:
DON’T LEAVE IT IN THE SUN!
If you are allowed to take your splint on and off, avoid leaving it on a hot dashboard or in a warm spot at home – we promise you it will melt.