Many patients have found themselves in this scenario: You hurt your hand, you see a specialist and either after surgery or instead of surgery, your physician recommends that you see an Occupational Therapist for therapy and splinting. But what does this splint do and what are the differences between the types of splints available? That’s what we will be discussing in this article!
Why does my surgeon want me to wear a splint?
Hand specialists will generally recommend that a patient seek a splint for a few different reasons:
Splints can be used to provide strength and support for the affected area. This allows the injury to heal properly, provides protection and aligns the body in the desired way for optimal function. Some examples of these types of braces are a Cock-Up Wrist Splint, which immobilizes the wrist for stabilization, or a Thumb Spica, which keeps the thumb in a straight position.
Splints can also adjust a patient’s movement, either restricting movements or only allowing the patient to bend the injured body part in a specific direction. One example of this is a Fracture Brace, which exists for different parts of the body. This device allows you to flex the affected area in certain positions, but then limits where you are able to return the body part to, preventing overextension.
Based on the need for the device, splints are either made of harder materials for protection, or softer materials to allow more movement and flexibly.
How do I know which splint is right for me?
To start, your physician will write a script for the occupational therapist to provide you with a splint. They will typically indicate whether you need a custom splint or a prefabricated one. There are several other factors to consider: Does the site need to be immobilized or limit motion? Does the area need to be protected? What is the healing/restriction timeline? When is the patient wearing the brace (during work requires something custom vs something prefab at home etc.)? Your physician will consider all of these questions and others before writing out the script for your device.
What is the difference between a prefabricated splint and a custom one?
Prefabricated splints are just that, premade. They are mass produced items that you can find at some medical retailers, or online such as our Motus store. Prefabricated devices are good for the very common problems (like carpal tunnel) found in the average patient. Generally, a device will come in a certain set of sizes so it is still important to discuss your sizing options and measurements with your Occupational Therapist so that you can be fit for your device properly.
Custom bracing however, is not for the one-item fits most patient. A custom splint is used not only to fit a patient’s individual body specifications, but also is manipulated to work around a patient’s career, hobbies or other everyday function that a prefabricated splint may not be able to accommodate.
How are custom splints made?
If your specialist prescribes a custom splint, your occupational therapist will work with you to create it! First, your therapist will assess what type of splint you need based on your physicians prescription. Next, measurements are taken and/or a rough template will be created based on your specifications. Using the template/measurements as a guide, your therapist will use a cut out of your splint from a Thermoplastic sheet material. This plastic is then placed in a hot bath to soften, allowing the therapist to mold the material around the affected hand, wrist or finger, shaping the device to fit YOU. Once the splint hardens, adjustments are made based on comfort and the specific function of the brace. Velcro strapping is added to the brace so it can be secured to the patient. As time goes on and you begin to heal, it is possible you will need a new brace that allows more movement, or adjustments will be made to the initial brace.
Most insurance companies will cover at least partial cost of a custom orthotic device based on a physician’s prescription. However, if your insurance does not cover custom splints or if the patient responsibility is more than you are able budget, we are happy to come up with a covered or less expensive pre-fabricated alternative. As a courtesy to our patients, the staff at Motus always go over insurance benefits, potential costs and advantages/disadvantages of the bracing types with patients ahead of time so they can make the right decision for their care.