When a person breaks a foot, ankle, or lower leg, they have the option to get the injured extremity sealed in a hard cast, or with their doctor's approval, they can opt for an air cast boot. An air cast boot encases the injured joint or foot inside an air cushion, which is in turn encased in a hard plastic shell. As an alternative to a traditional cast, the air cast boot promotes faster healing time, more mobility, and the ability to remove the cast so the injury can be exposed to fresh air or for convenience when showering. The boot is also more commonly used as a transition between a hard cast and no cast at all.
A patient must first and foremost check with their doctor to see if the air cast boot is the right choice for them. The boot should only be used as an alternative to a hard cast for minor injuries; otherwise, it can be used after a hard cast is taken off and before the ankle or foot is strong enough to bear weight on its own. The air cast boot allows a patient to slowly and safely promote strength in the foot or ankle, thereby allowing them to put weight on the injury more quickly after the injury occurs. It does so by keeping the foot and ankle at a constant angle but allowing a limited amount of movement within the cast, promoting mobility.
The air cells within the air cast boot are adjustable and can be made stiffer or softer by using a bulb pump. The hard shell of the boot keeps the ankle or foot in place, thereby reducing the possibility of re-injury caused by excessive movement. The hard shell also protects against external impacts. The sole of the boot is typically coated with non-skid material for safety and stability. By adjusting the boot using the Velcro® straps and the adjustable air cells, a patient can also reduce the risk of suffering from edema.
Depending on the severity of the injury, some patients may be able to use the air cast boot without crutches, thereby freeing their hands from the constraints of the crutches. Before attempting to walk without crutches, however, a patient should consult a doctor to prevent re-injuring the foot or ankle. The air cast boot is custom-fit to a patient, which increases comfort and the likelihood that the injury will heal correctly.
Pros and Cons of an Air Cast
Using an air cast has pros and cons to consider, which relate to the patient’s comfort and the effectiveness of the healing.
If you require an air cast, you might be curious about how they can benefit you. Below are the pros of using an air cast.
Patients Can Shower and Swim
One of the most significant advantages of air casts is they are not permanently applied to the limb, so patients can remove the cast to shower, swim, or allow the limb to breathe a bit. This option is typically more appealing to people that hate the idea of being trapped in a plaster or fiberglass cast for months.
Plaster is mostly just used for healing broken bones. But air casts are effective for breaks, strains, and post-surgical protection.
If a doctor applies a plaster cast or fiberglass too tightly or loosely, this is very hard to remedy without removing the entire cast and starting over. But an air cast has customizable inflation inside, so you can reduce the pressure or increase it to enhance your comfort.
Fiberglass and plaster casts can be heavy and awkwardly rounding on the soul of the fit. Because of this design, they can make walking difficult and more tiresome for the patient. But air casts are much lighter, allowing the patient more mobility.
Plaster and fiberglass can be affordable, but they can also cost hundreds or thousands of dollars because you need doctor assistance to apply and remove them. However, most air casts can be purchased for under $100, making them much easier to acquire.
Below are the cons of wearing an air cast:
Interruptions to the Healing Process
The only major con of an air cast is that the patient can easily remove it often, which can delay and disrupt the healing process. If removed often, the bone may not heal correctly, causing lifelong problems.
The Evolution of Casts
The air cast boot is one of the best ways to heal broken or fractured limbs and is far more comfortable than older kinds of casts. To understand the brilliance of the air cast, let’s discuss the evolution of casts and the immobilization of injured limbs.
The beginning of immobilization of injured limbs started in ancient Egypt. They used wood splints and treebark to fix injured limbs to help them heal.
Ancient Hindus used bamboo splits to immobilize and treat broken bones.
The ancient Greeks used wax and resin to stiffen bandages, much like the plaster casts people are familiar with today.
Ancient Arabs also took the route of stiffening soft bandages to immobilize the limb. However, they used the lime properties obtained from seashells and egg whites to strengthen the bandaging.
Italians, true to their culture that loves food, used a combination of eggs and flour on pliable casts to stiffen them and hold the limb in one place until it healed.
Germans would place narrow boxes around injured limbs and then fill them with wet sand, making it impossible to move the limb. While effective in healing, this method forced the patient to stay in bed and drastically immobilized them.
A major milestone in the development of casts was The Plaster of Paris. This plaster was a mixture of powdered gypsum and water, forming a plaster that hardens after drying. The plaster was developed in the 1850s by Nikolay Ivanovich Pirogov and Anthonius Mathijsen, two military doctors and surgeons active during the Crimean War.
The Plaster of Paris was the chosen type of cast for over a century. It was advantageous compared with splints but was very heavy and was generally uncomfortable for patients.
The next evolution of the cast was the fiberglass cast. These casts came about in the 1970s and quickly became the preferred replacement over The Plaster of Paris. Fiberglass casts are much lighter and waterproof, making them more comfortable for injured patients.
And finally, the inventor Glenn Walter Johnson Jr. created an ankle brace designed for sprains that eventually became the air cast boot in the mid-1970s.
The air cast is much lighter and more durable than fiberglass or plaster casts, prioritizing comfort without sacrificing the integrity of the healing process.