Breaking an arm or a leg and being stuck in a cast for six weeks is hard enough by itself. But then it starts to itch. It might be a mild little tingle that you try to ignore, or an intense itching sensation that makes you want to tear your cast off so you can have a good scratch.
Now we all know the things we’re NOT allowed to do to relieve the itch…
DON’T stick a knitting needle or a skewer down there to have a good dig
DON’T cut a hole in the cast so you can access the problem area
DON’T bang the cast against a wall to try to knock the itch away
So what CAN you do?
Sometimes prevention is better than cure. Itchiness can be caused by small particles getting down inside the cast. This could be sand, grass clippings, bits of food etc. If you can prevent things getting down in there in the first place, you can stop some itches from happening.
If it’s a waterproof cast, one of the best things you can do is to get it wet. The padding material in waterproof casts is designed to get wet, and can get itchy if it remains dry against the skin. If you run some cool, clean water down inside the cast, it can relieve an itch. Just make sure you let the water drain out completely afterwards so it’s not damp inside.
Speaking of dampness, sometimes itches can be caused by moisture trapped inside the cast. This can be especially prevalent in humid weather. Blowing some air down inside the cast using a hairdryer on a cool setting or an electric pump can be a great way of addressing this issue.
Itching can also be due to swelling in the cast. Try to alleviate any swelling that has pooled under the cast by elevating your limb and wiggling your fingers and toes.
Itching in specific locations under a cast can be addressed with some local techniques.
- Tapping – Try and tap lightly on the surface of the cast above the itch using a finger or another object like a spoon
- Vibration – Try to create gentle vibrations on the surface of the cast around the itching area using a portable massager or other device.
- Ice – You can use an ice pack on the surface of the cast for a short period. This cooling effect can be quite relieving (but don’t let a non-waterproof cast get wet from moisture)
- Massage – Try gently massaging the skin near the cast (above or below) to stimulate the skin and muscles underneath. Avoid putting too much pressure especially if the injury is relatively new, and don’t let any massage lotion get under the cast
- Scratch the opposite limb – If you scratch the corresponding itchy spot on your opposite arm or leg that is cast-free, your brain can be tricked into thinking you’re scratching the itch and you can find relief
If your itching persists, there may be something happening under your cast that needs addressing, so you may need the cast removed and reapplied after the skin is checked. You might even need to talk to your local doctor about itch relieving medications like antihistamines which may help with ongoing irritation. For more information please don’t hesitate to contact Sydney West Physio