How to Properly Splint a Foot in an Emergency

Feet are complicated structures. With 26 bones in each foot, there are plenty of opportunities for fractures, dislocations, and other injuries that can severely impair a person's mobility. To complicate matters even further, the shape of the foot is such that it can often be ​difficult to splint if it is injured.

Fortunately, with a little insight and a few household items, you construct a functional splint that can immobilize the foot and make it easier (and safer) to head to the hospital.


Evaluate the Foot

Evaluating sensation in a foot
Rod Brouhard

Before applying any type of immobilization to the foot, it is important that you evaluate and determine the extent of the injury. There are three main things you need to assess:

  1. Check the blood circulation by feeling the temperature of the foot and comparing it with the uninjured foot. If it is colder, it suggests there may be a circulatory problem.
  2. Check for sensation by touching a toe and asking the injured person to identify which toe was touched. Make note if there is any numbness or tingling.
  3. Check for movement by asking the person to wiggle his or her toes.
  4. Check for bruising as this can help identify where the injury is.

Be sure to report these to the doctor or nurse when arriving at the hospital.


Create a Cardboard Splint

Homemade cardboard splint
Rod Brouhard

Cardboard is the perfect medium for making a splint in an emergency. Any piece that still has integrity will work, including lighter weight cardboard that has not been excessively crushed or folded.

The cardboard should be long enough so that it comes at least halfway up to the calf. It should also be broad enough so that it can be folded around the foot in sections with a left panel, center panel, and right panel.

Using the edge of a desk or the corner of a wall as a guide, make two vertical creases in the cardboard. You will want to ensure that foot and calf rest snugly in the center panel, while the side panels can wrap around the foot and be more or less square.


Pad the Splint

Cardboard splint with towel
Rod Brouhard

Once the framework has been created, place a towel over the cardboard so that there is some padding to bolster the foot. The padding will also ensure that the splint fits snugly and that the foot is less able to move around.


Position the Splint

Positioning a foot on a splint
Rod Brouhard

Position the splint so that the center panel is directly under the back of the leg and foot. As you fold up the sides, check for any spaces that may allow the foot to shimmy around loosely. If there are, fill those spaces with a rolled-up towel or T-shirt so that the foot and ankle are fully supported and immobilized.


Secure the Splint

Splinted leg
Rod Brouhard

Once you fold up the sides panels, secure the cardboard framework with tape. Use the heaviest and widest tape you have, and apply as many strips as you need to keep the splint secure. Again, check for open spaces, and bolster those gaps as needed.


Ice the Injury

Leg splint with ice
Rod Brouhard

You can now place an ice pack on the injury to help reduce swelling and alleviate pain. Be sure not to place the ice directly on the skin or leave it in one spot for more than 20 minutes. Doing so can cause frostbite.


Reassess and Go to the Hospital

Checking sensation of a splinted foot
Rod Brouhard

Recheck the circulation, sensation, motion, and bruising after the splint has been secured. Note any changes from the first assessment. You can then elevate the foot to reduce the swelling and makes plans to transport the individual to the emergency room.

This type of splint is not intended as a substitute for proper medical care.

By Rod Brouhard, EMT-P
Rod Brouhard is an emergency medical technician paramedic (EMT-P), journalist, educator, and advocate for emergency medical service providers and patients.