Although immobilisation of the foot and leg is a recognised treatment following a fracture or surgery, many people are unaware that this can be used to help ease pain in a wide range of conditions.
The aim of the treatment is to completely rest the area so that inflammation and swelling are allowed to settle, which generally eases pain. Although a cast can be on the foot alone (foot cast) it usually has to extend beyond the ankle to just below the knee (below knee cast). The traditional method of using plaster of Paris has largely been replaced by using synthetic materials such as acrylic. This has the advantage of being stronger and lighter.
The disadvantages include inconvenience, reduced mobility and disuse. If a below knee cast is used for 4-6 weeks (the common time period), there will almost certainly be a reduction in the bulk of the muscles of the leg with resultant weakness. This will need building up again. There may also be some thinning of the bones of the foot and leg (osteoporosis) and there is a small risk of a blood clot (deep vein thrombosis) due to the immobilisation.
One option is to use a removable boot to achieve the same result. Although these are still inconvenient, they do allow washing and treatment (such as physiotherapy) can be continued during the course of recovery. This may also help to reduce the degree of muscle loss experienced with the use of traditional casts.