8 Tips for Coping With a Shoulder Sling

Doctor William C Lloyd Healthgrades Medical Reviewer
Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Written By Sarah Lewis, PharmD on November 3, 2020
  • Patient in arm sling
    Shoulder Slings
    You may find yourself in a shoulder sling for a variety of reasons. The sling helps support your arm after injury or surgery on the arm, shoulder or collarbone. Some people only need it for a short period of time, while others will wear a sling for many weeks. Regardless of how you ended up with it, wearing a shoulder sling can be a challenge. Read on to learn some practical tips for coping with your sling.
  • physical-therapist-holding-patients-arm
    1. Follow Your Doctor’s Instructions on When to Wear Your Sling
    Your doctor will give you specific instructions for wearing your sling. If you had surgery, you will likely wear the sling until your follow-up appointment. You will gradually decrease your sling use. As you heal from an injury or surgery, you may only need it while awake, or at night, or as needed for comfort. While wearing your sling, move your fingers and wrist several times a day to prevent stiffness.
  • Girl with arm sling
    2. Wear Your Shoulder Sling Properly
    The sling strap goes from the elbow of the injured arm, across your back to the opposite shoulder, and down across your chest to the wrist of the injured arm. You can attach the strap before you put it on and adjust it after it’s in position. Your hand should be at or above the level of your elbow. Adjust the strap pad comfortably near your neck. Ask your doctor to review your sling’s instructions with you.
  • Relaxing Bubble Bath
    3. Take Care When Bathing
    You may or may not need help bathing for the first few weeks in a sling. If your injury is minor, your doctor may allow you to remove the sling and bathe freely. For more severe injuries or surgery, your doctor may tell you to remove the sling but not to use your injured arm to bathe. This means you will need someone to wash your healthy arm.
  • woman-putting-on-jeans
    4. You May Need Help Getting Dressed
    Dressing will also depend on the severity of your injury. You may be able to dress normally with a mild injury. For more severe injuries and surgery, wearing shirts that open in front will be easiest. Slide your injured arm in first and proceed to finish dressing. If your dominant arm is injured, fasteners may be a challenge. You may need help with zippers or buttons, and find that snaps are easier. Resist the urge to use your injured arm.
  • couple-sleeping-in-bed
    5. You May Need to Adjust the Way You Sleep
    It can be difficult to get comfortable while sleeping with a shoulder sling. Try propping your arm with pillows, sleeping on your back, propping your whole upper body, or sleeping in a reclining chair. If sleeping is not going well, talk with your doctor about whether wearing the sling at night is absolutely essential.
  • Man opens refrigerator
    6. Use Your Healthy Arm for Daily Activities
    Remember to use your healthy arm for all daily activities. These activities include eating, preparing meals, using the toilet, and moving between sitting, standing and lying down. This can be quite a challenge if your dominant arm is injured. It will take some practice, some help from others, and some creativity. You should avoid housework and vigorous activities until your doctor clears it.
  • Woman in physical therapy for shoulder
    7. Stick With Your Physical Therapy
    People often need physical therapy to recover from a severe injury or shoulder surgery. You will need to remove your sling to complete your exercises. This rehabilitation is vital to prevent joint stiffness and regain joint function. You will likely progress from simple range-of-motion exercises to strengthening exercises. Follow your therapist’s instructions for wearing your sling.
  • Woman in arm sling
    8. Keep Your Shoulder Sling Clean
    For most shoulder slings, you can hand wash them and let them air dry. You can do this occasionally if it gets dirty or if you only use it for comfort. If you are wearing your sling continually, you may want to consider having two slings. Have one to wear while the other dries.
8 Tips for Coping With a Shoulder Sling
Shoulder Surgery
  1. Instructions for Wearing Your Shoulder Immobilizer Brace. Johns Hopkins University. http://www.hopkinsortho.org/orthopedicsurgery/ShoulderImmobilizer.pdf.
  2. Postoperative Shoulder. National Association of Orthopedic Nurses. http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=26&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0CE0QFjAFOBQ&url=...
  3. Rotator Cuff Tears: Surgical Treatment Options. American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00406.
Was this helpful?
Last Review Date: 2020 Nov 3
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.