Plaster Away

The setting of broken bones using Plaster of Paris is a common practice at Central Adelaide Local Health Network hospitals. 

Immobilizing broken limbs has occurred for thousands of years. Beginning with simple wooden splints, evolving over the centuries to plaster of Paris, fibre glass and soft casts.

Plaster of Paris model of left foot and lower leg Ca2016, Royal Adelaide Hospital Prosthetics and Orthotics Department

Plaster of Paris was first used in casts for broken bones at the beginning of the 19th century. The original technique called ‘platre coule’ involved the limb being encased in a wooden frame and the plaster of Paris poured inside.  This process was extremely heavy, leaving the patient bed-bound while their bones healed.

By the mid 1800’s plaster of Paris paste was being added to bandages and wrapped around a broken limb.  The dressing was much lighter and hardened quicker, with the setting time around six hours.

Royal Adelaide Hospital patient on a barouche leaving the plaster room after having plaster applied to a broken limb. 1941

Gradually plaster Paris casts became the most common way to treat broken bones  Theses early plaster bandages used at hospitals were mainly made by nursing staff.  They were usually freshly made from plaster powder that was directly applied onto the bandage.

At Royal Adelaide Hospital, nurses were sent to the Plaster Room in pairs where they assisted the House Surgeons and Registrars when plaster was applied. Pictured here are Nurses Salmon (left) and Ward rolling plaster bandages after they had been washed and ironed. 1942

In the early 1930’s, commercially manufactured bandages were becoming available. Gypsona was a popular brand that was used at both Royal Adelaide Hospital and The Queen Elizabeth Hospital.  It was first internationally established in 1940 and widely used at both hospitals,

Green fabric covered book with black spine. ‘GYPSONA TECHNIQUE” printed in black on the front cover. ‘PLASTER ROOM’ written in ink and ‘O.P.D (Outpatient Department)’ stamped on flyleaf of book. Book provides instruction on how to apply plaster casts to aid with the recovery of a variety of fractures. Royal Adelaide Hospital 1955
Green tin of Gypsona brand plaster of Paris bandage. Rice Collection Ca 1950
Royal Adelaide Hospital Plaster Room, ground floor McEwin Building. Ca1950

As well as treating broken bones, plaster of Paris can also be used to support sprained ligaments and inflamed and infected soft tissue. It usually sets within a few minutes but does need up to 36-72 hours to completely dry.

Small Plaster Cutter, The Queen Elizabeth Hospital Ca1970

Plaster of Paris is still widely used at both Royal Adelaide and The Queen Elizabeth Hospital.  It is easy to use, non-irritant and relatively cheap.

Written by Margot Way, CALHN Health Museum