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 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.
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.
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,
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.
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