Mistakes You Are Making Wearing Your Shoulder Sling

Avoid These Common Mistakes when Wearing a Sling

Photo of a doctor helping a girl in a sling.
Your PT can make sure you are wearing your shoulder sling properly. Terry Vine/Getty Images

If you have a shoulder injury, elbow injury, or wrist injury or if you have had upper extremity surgery, your doctor may require that you wear a sling to protect your arm as it heals.  Wearing a sling can be difficult, because it prevents you from using your arm properly.  But that's the point; protect your shoulder, elbow, and wrist by not allowing it to move so it can heal.

Common problems that may require you to wear a sling include:

Many people who are required to wear a sling complain about the discomfort that goes along with it.  Some of the discomfort from sling wearing comes from not using the device properly.

In order to maintain maximum comfort while wearing your sling, try to avoid these common mistakes.  You'll find that the sling works great, and you may improve your overall outcome from your upper extremity surgery or injury.

The Shoulder Sling is Too Loose

When wearing a sling, it needs to be supportive to your shoulder, elbow, and wrist.  If your sling is too loose, it won't keep your arm in place, and you may be placing unnecessary stress and strain through arm.

When wearing your sling, make sure that it supports your arm and forearm, and be sure your elbow is kept at a 90 degree angle.  If your elbow is too straight, it may indicate that your sling is too loose and not doing what it should be doing.

The Sling is Too Tight

 When wearing your shoudler sling, you must ensure that it is not too tight.  Wearing your sling too tight may restrict blood flow to and from your elbow and hand.  Restricted blood flow may cause damage to your arm by depriving the tissues of oxygen and nutrients.

If your sling is too tight, it may also prevent fluid in your elbow and hand from entering the venous return system.  This may cause your hand, elbow, and forearm to look swollen and puffy.

Signs that your sling may be too tight include:

  • Swelling in your fingers, hand, forearm, or elbow
  • Numbness or tingling in your hand or fingers
  • Discoloration of your hand and fingers

If you suspect that you sling is too tight, visit with your doctor or physical therapist to have your sling properly adjusted.

Your Arm Hangs Too Low in the Sling

 When wearing your shoudler sling, your arm should not hang too low.  If it does, the weight of your arm may place increased stress and strain on your healing arm and shoulder.  Plus, your arm may simply and suddenly fall out of the sling if it is hanging too low.

Your elbow should be bent 90 degrees while wearring your sling, and the sling should support your arm firmly against your body.  If you aren't sure if it is on properly, have your physical therapist make necessary adjustments to your sling.

You Are Not Exercising Other Body Parts While Wearing Your Sling

 The goal of wearing your sling is to protect your shoulder and arm as it is healing after surgery or injury.  This does not mean that you shouldn't use some of the muscle of your arm and hand while using the sling.

Ask your doctor if you can perform some gentle exercises for your arm while wearing your sling.  These exercise may include:

By keeping the muscles around the injury or surgery site strong and mobilie, you can ensure that your rehab will progress well once you are permitted to stop wearing your sling.

Wearing a shoulder sling after surgery or injury may seem like a difficult thing to do.  Having to function with one arm secured to your body can make perfroming everyday tasks almost impossible.  By wearing your sling properly, you can be sure to have a succesful healing process and a speedy and safe return to normal activity.

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