Wearing Shoulder Sling Common Mistakes

There are common mistakes people make when wearing a shoulder sling. If used incorrectly, a shoulder sling can cause discomfort and delay the healing process. Your physical therapist can help you avoid these pitfalls:

• The sling is too loose. If it's not supportive of your shoulder, elbow, and wrist, the sling won't keep your arm in place, and you may place unnecessary stress and strain on the arm. Make sure the sling supports your arm and forearm, and be sure your elbow is kept at a 90-degree angle. If your elbow is too straight, the sling may be too loose.

• The sling is too tight. This may restrict blood flow to and from your elbow and hand, depriving tissues of oxygen and damaging your arm, hand, and/or fingers. If you experience numbness, tingling, or swelling, or your hands and fingers feel cold or turn blue, see your doctor or physical therapist for an adjustment.

• Your arm is hanging too low. When wearing your shoulder 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's hanging too low. Your elbow should be bent 90 degrees while you're wearing your sling, and the sling should support your arm firmly against your body without lifting. The shoulder shouldn't be lifted or dropped. If you aren't sure the sling is on properly, have your physical therapist make necessary adjustments.

• You're not exercising neighboring muscles. The goal of wearing your sling is to protect your shoulder and arm as it heals. This doesn't mean you shouldn't use some of the muscles of your arm and hand during recovery. Because the sling is designed to immobilize the shoulder, it can cause a decreased range of motion (ROM) and strength of your arm unless steps are taken to avoid it. During recovery, doctors will typically advise you to remove the sling and do no-impact pendulum circle exercises two to three times per day to maintain joint mobility. Handgrip exercises using therapy putty to create resistance can improve strength in your wrist and forearm.