My experience with using newspaper to make spica, meta and back splints spans more than 30 years, but I still encounter many
practitioners unfamiliar with these techniques. Because of continued success with them and the present economic climate that
focuses on whatever is practical and economical, it seems a good time to discuss these procedures again.
When faced with fractures of the humerus or femur, I was taught that it was best to let the dog or cat rest in a cage and
not to try to splint them until surgery could be performed. While some still choose to do that, what we know today about pain
management tells us that even small movements can cause intense pain and muscle spasm. When the fracture is not immobilized,
there is a continued risk for further neurovascular compromise or injury.
Therefore the very old tenets, "splint them where they lay" and "include the immobilization of both the joint above and the
joint below the fracture," are still valid — when they can be accomplished safely.
And they usually can be done safely, effectively and economically — even with fractures of the humerus and femur — with newspaper
spica splints. (Click here for a step-by-step image gallery.)
Indications for the use of newspaper splints are listed here.
Materials needed to construct newspaper splints include 1-in. or 2-in. adhesive tape, three to six rolls of 3-in. to 6-in.
cast padding, a stack of newspaper, three to six rolls of 3-in. to 6-in. brown gauze (preferred over white stretch gauze)
and some type of flexible outer wrap material.
Quick emergency application of newspaper splints, taking only two to three minutes, can be used in obvious extremity fractures
to provide immediate temporary immobilization to prevent further soft-tissue and neurovascular injury. These require only
the newspaper, a few strips of adhesive tape and possibly some gauze used to bind the newspaper to the limb. Radiographs can
then be taken through these to assess the fracture without loss of much detail but with the prevention of additional injury
from unstable fracture ends.
Before splint application it is important to first sedate and provide analgesia, particularly after recent trauma if pain
is clinically apparent or anticipated. Emergency patients that are obtunded and remain unresponsive after beginning manipulation
of the affected limb are exceptions.
In cases where some closed reduction of a fracture will be attempted prior to the splint's application, general anesthesia
and muscular relaxation, along with the analgesia, will be needed prior to any limb manipulation.
I also recommend clipping and inspecting the fracture area to assess the skin for penetration. This does not curtail use of
the splint but signals the need for additional care (debridement, dressing application) and possible creation of a trap door
in the splint to allow wound inspection and treatment.
Regional or epidural anesthesia and analgesia as well as continuous Doppler blood-flow audio monitoring also are helpful and
recommended. Application of most newspaper splints can be accomplished within 30 minutes.
Newspaper spica splints
Pectoral limb ("shoulder spica") and pelvic limb ("hip spica") newspaper splints span the entire limb, beginning at the level
of the vertebral column and ending near the bottom of the toes. They usually are applied for temporary immobilization of joints
above and below fractures, including those of the humerus and femur, until open reduction and rigid internal fixation can
They have been used successfully for "definitive" fracture immobilization when owners were not willing or able to have the
fracture treated with surgery and displacement of the fracture ends is not severe.
They provide enough immobilization to allow fracture healing with replacement being done as needed. Most last at least several
weeks, with a range of one to six weeks, depending on the degree of general splint care the owner provides.
To help apply shoulder spica splints to large, heavy patients that have been sedated or anesthetized, patients can be positioned
in lateral recumbency with the affected limb up and with part of the body resting on a gurney and part on a table of similar
height. The gurney is then positioned so that the shoulder area can be accessed 360 degrees. To keep the patient from slipping
between the table and gurney, either apply duct or other tape to hold the patient in place or have two assistants hold the