It is possible to manage a cast anywhere from the hand to the shoulder and still run. The added weight, the severity of the injury, and the effect sweat can have on the cast and the runner might all be reasons for not lacing up but it just take a little know how to run with a cast. There are two types of fractures that require a cast to stabilize the injured area and promote healing. The first is an open or compound fracture, which is the more serious of the two because the fracture has broken the skin and damaged surrounding tissue. The second is the closed fracture. It could be a crack or a break in the bone and may or may not have internal damage but has not broken the skin.
Casts are made from plaster or fiberglass and fitted to stabilize the joints above and below the injury. A cotton or synthetic material is applied for cushioning before the cast is put on. Plaster casts are applied wet and dry into a hard white protective covering over the injured area. Fiberglass casts are wrapped like tape and come in a variety of colors and designs and can also be applied with a waterproof lining, which could prove to be more beneficial to runners.
The types of casts that runners can work around are the Short arm, Long arm, Arm cylinder, and Shoulder spica cast. The Short arm is applied below the elbow and runs to the hand. It is used for forearm or wrist fractures. The Long arm stabilizes the upper arm, elbow, or forearm and runs from the upper arm to the hand. The Arm cylinder covers the upper arm to the wrist and holds the elbow muscles and tendons in place after a dislocation or surgery. The Shoulder spica surrounds the trunk of the body up to the shoulder and down the injured arm and hand.
Other casts that are useful to know but would not allow running are the Minerva, a cast the goes around the neck and body after surgery on the neck or upper back area. Another is the Short leg, applied below the knee to the foot for lower leg fractures. There is also the Leg cylinder, Unilateral hip spica, One and one-half hip spica, the Bilateral long leg hip spica and the Short leg hip spica cast.
No matter the type, working around a cast will take time to get used to. It may take longer to complete everyday tasks such as getting dressed or tying shoelaces. When it comes to hitting the road for a run, investing in lace locks or double or triple tying shoelaces is a good idea since no runner wants to spend several minutes trying to retie their shoes especially during a race. The cast will most likely slow the runner's speed down as well. All this should be considered when fitting the extra time into a busy schedule.
In order to run successfully and take care of a cast so it does not deteriorate prematurely or worse cause undo discomfort there are a few things to remember. Keep it clean and dry. This is vital for plaster casts, as they will fall apart if they get wet. This can be pretty difficult if your logging miles outdoors or on the trail but the cleaner and drier the cast, the fewer problems it will cause the runner.
Check over the cast for cracks or other damage and wipe down the outside with a damp cloth to keep it clean. When running outdoors in the rain use a trash bag or some other waterproof covering to protect it. This is also good for running on trails to reduce dirt and debris from getting on or in the cast.
Keeping the outside clean and dry could turn out to be easier than for the inside. Sweat is one of the biggest problems for a cast-burdened runner. It can lead to skin irritation such as blisters, rashes, and sores as well as swelling. Sweat contains salt, which can become an irritant when trapped between the cast and the skin. This becomes very apparent on a long run where the cast has been rubbing against the skin. Pad the edges of the cast to reduce irritation on the hand where it rubs. Isopropyl alcohol can be rubbed along the hand just underneath the cast to toughen the skin against irritation.
Taking a blow dryer set on cool and blowing air into the cast will help dry it out. This will also cool the skin. This is particularly helpful if the skin is hot and itchy. It is not recommended to stick foreign objects into the cast as it could damage the cast or the skin. As a matter of fact it is a good idea to prevent anything from contaminating the area between the cast and the skin. Taking an anti-histamine can help minimize the itching.
Managing the smell a cast can create is a problem not so easily tackled. The odor develops from sweat and body odors that build up since the area between the cast and skin can't be cleaned. This seems to be an unavoidable problem for runners since sweating comes with the territory. Again using a blow dryer set on cool can help dry out the area, reducing the odor but aside from trying to mask the smell with perfume or cologne, not much can be done. If it is that bad have the cast replaced.
Most of these problems can be avoided by the use of a fiberglass cast with a waterproof liner. These casts can get wet without causing damage and they dry out easily reducing or eliminating skin irritation and bad odors. They are used on fractures and sprains that are stable but require a cast for immobilization and healing. Once a severe fracture is stabilized, this type can replace the old non-waterproof cast. This option is a little more expensive and may not be covered under some insurance plans but can be worth it to a runner.
Another pitfall that runners have to be aware of when wearing a cast is that their once balanced running posture is going to be challenged by the unbalanced weight of wearing a cast. Runners should take it easy at first so their bodies can adjust to the weight of the cast. Slowing down or walking on tricky terrain such as trails and down hills is a good idea since the cast can make it more difficult to keep good footing. The cast is also going to strain muscles not use to the extra weight. Depending on the runner's threshold for pain, taking an anti-inflammatory like ibuprofen or naproxen will help ease discomfort while running. Elevate the injured area when able in order to reduce swelling and move fingers often to help with circulation.
Knowing how to care for a cast while keeping up with a running routine can go a long way in making running with a cast a tolerable experience. Just be careful not to end up with another fracture while running with a cast for the first one.
This article was expressly written for Run The Planet by Krisha Jackson and we thank her for the cooperation.