A splint is any solid structure used to stabilize a bone or joint in the body, usually after a severe injury. A stirrup splint is a type of stabilizing device usually used to stabilize the ankle or bones in the lower leg. It is so called because the stirrup splint will generally include a strap or stabilizer that wraps around the bottom of the foot, much like a stirrup on a horse saddle would do. This helps to keep the splint in place, even during walking or other types of movements.
The sides of the splint are likely to be hard and made from plastic or other composite materials. These vertical stabilizers help prevent lateral movement in the joint, and they may be used after a severe ankle sprain or a fracture in the lower leg. Straps are usually attached to the hard stirrup splint stabilizers; these straps can be wrapped around the leg to ensure the splint fits snugly around the affected area. Hook and loop straps are common because they are easily adjustable. When the hard stabilizers press against the limb, discomfort is likely, so many splints feature soft padding between the rigid stabilizers and the limb itself. Air casts will feature air bladders to provide this cushioning.
The size and thickness of the splint will vary significantly according to the type of injury that has been sustained, as well as the size of the person who is wearing the splint. Generally, larger splints are useful for larger people, or for injuries that run far up the leg. Shorter splints are most useful for isolated ankle injuries or isolated lower leg injuries that do not extend far up the rest of the leg. The number of straps on the stirrup splint will also vary according to how much compression is needed and how large the splint itself is.
A makeshift stirrup splint can be made in emergency situations by using two rigid supports and pieces of fabric to tie them in place. In the woods, for example, two rigid sticks and a torn-up shirt or bandanna can easily create a splint, but it is important to be as careful as possible when using such a makeshift device. It is best to get training in wilderness first aid before attempting such splinting, as tying fabric strips can easily cut off circulation to the injury, thereby leading to further injury.