New research from the University of Sydney in Australia suggests that broken ankles may heal faster and better if patients are fitted with removable splints or braces rather than the plaster cast.
The researchers say that another benefit of using such splints or braces is that patients can take them off daily to wash their ankles, and relieve the itches that plaster-cast wearers generally complain about.
"Our review shows that using a removable splint and doing exercises could give up to 20 per cent additional benefit in improving a patient's mobility in the long term after an ankle fracture, compared to a fixed cast with no exercise," New Scientist magazine quoted Christine Lin of the university as saying.
The researchers believe that the benefits mainly arise from the exercise, which strengthens the broken joint and keeps it supple.
They, however, caution that accidents may happen, especially if patients fail to replace the splint immediately after washing and exercise.
The researchers also highlight the fact that removable splints are at present available only for a minority of patients worldwide, and plaster casts do have the advantage of keeping the healing bones in compound or open fractures immobile.
"I don't think this is the end for the plaster cast," says Lin.
A report on this study has been published in the journal Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews.