New technique could see end of plaster casts

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A Scottish surgeon has come up with a surgical technique which could spell the end of the plaster cast for certain kinds of injuries.

The technique uses an internal support which is inserted via keyhole surgery.

Plaster casts or "stookies", as they are known in Scotland, are used to keep injured limbs immobile.

But Professor Gordon Mackay wanted to find a way of avoiding the muscle-wasting and inconvenience of plaster casts, boots and slings.

The professor, from the Ross Hall hospital in Glasgow, said: "I think anyone who's had the experience of trying to put a knitting needle down the cast to get to an itch will realise that a stookie is extremely unpleasant.

"Also, when it comes off, the limb tends to be festering within and your muscles have wasted to nothing."

Ligament damage

Prof Mackay uses keyhole surgery to insert a tiny piece of tape which acts as a brace over injured ligaments.

The brace allows movement but supports the ligaments while they heal.

Image caption,
Prof Mackay has carried out the procedure on about 20 patients in the UK

It means patients do not need to have their injured joint immobilised and recovery times are much quicker.

The technique is particularly attracting the interest of sportspeople and athletes, who cannot afford to spend weeks recovering from ligament damage.

One of Professor Mackay's patients is Olympic figure skater Sinead Kerr, who was injured when her skating partner and brother John landed on her.

"I've not had any pain since the surgery and I'm taking it step by step but it's gradually getting back to normal," she said.

"I think it really helped that I didn't have anything too rigid on my arm locking me in.

"I had something that allowed me to do that movement."

More comfortable

Prof Mackay has carried out the procedure on about 20 patients in the UK and is now collaborating with the famous Steadman Clinic in the US, which has treated many injured sport stars.

He said: "If you can move much more quickly then you don't get all the secondary problems and it's much more comfortable for the patient.

"They can start the rehabilitation immediately.

"The problem we've had before is that if the joint is unstable it's uncomfortable to move and if you move it too quickly then the tissues stretch and fail.

"Here we have an internal brace which prevents the tissues from stretching but still allows you to mobilise the joint with some confidence."

However the technique is not yet available on the NHS so most people who tear ligaments can expect to continue to have to reach for the knitting needle.