Making a Pillow Splint

The Easiest Way to Splint an Ankle

swollen ankle
Deformity (swelling) is a sign of injury and might be a fracture. Leslie Antonis

Ankle injuries are common and they hurt something fierce. Twist an ankle at home and you probably don't want to call an ambulance since it's not life-threatening. On the other hand, you also don't want to accidentally put pressure on your injured ankle during the car ride to the doctor's office, clinic or emergency department.

The solution: use a pillow and some tape to splint the ankle. It's the easiest way to make a splint at home using things you probably have lying around. Pillows aren't tough enough for long leg fractures like the tibia or the femur, but they will provide enough support for an injured ankle.

Assessing the Ankle

Checking sensation of an injured foot
The victim should be able to identify which toe is being touched. © Rod Brouhard

Assessing the ankle includes assessing the function of the foot below the ankle. There are three main points to assess.

  1. Circulation: Assess circulation by feeling the temperature of the foot. Compare the temperature of the injured foot to the temperature of the uninjured foot. You can also assess circulation by feeling for the presence of a pulse in the foot or by checking capillary refill. Note any difference in temperature between the patient's two feet.
  2. Sensation: Assess the sensation of the foot by touching a toe and asking the patient to identify which toe is being touched. Note any numbness or tingling the patient feels when his or her injured foot is touched.
  3. Motion: Have the patient wiggle the toes on the injured foot. Note any inability of the patient to move the toes or foot.

Position the Pillow

Position a pillow under an injured foot
Position a pillow under an injured ankle. © Rod Brouhard

Put the pillow under the injured ankle. Make sure the pillow reaches from the lower leg to the foot. It's important to immobilize the bones above and below the injury.

Wrap the Pillow Around the Ankle

Pillow around an injured ankle
Wrap the pillow around the ankle. © Rod Brouhard

Wrap the pillow around the ankle. Tape above and below the ankle injury. Take care not to wrap the tape too tight. Almost any strong tape can be used - I used duct tape here.

Assess the Splinted Foot

Assessing a splinted ankle
Recheck the function of the splinted foot. © Rod Brouhard

Once the ankle has been immobilized with the pillow, re-assess the function of the foot below the injured ankle. Note any differences between the first and second assessments.

A pillow splint will provide enough support for an injured ankle to get the patient to medical care. A pillow splint is not a long term solution. This is just enough to get to a healthcare professional.

You can still ice an injured ankle once it has been splinted. Just be sure to put the ice pack over the pillow, not under it. Believe it or not, you can easily cause frostbite with an ice pack.

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