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What is a Shoulder Sling?

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  • Written By: T. Alaine
  • Edited By: John Allen
  • Last Modified Date: 05 November 2016
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In the time following an injury or surgery, many patients are advised to wear a shoulder sling to help facilitate the healing of a shoulder or arm. The primary purpose of a shoulder sling is to stabilize the arm or shoulder so that the injured body part can rest and not become further agitated by excess movement. Immobilizing an injured arm or shoulder with a sling also eases some of the discomfort associated with movement. Shoulder slings usually consist of a strap of material that hangs from the shoulder and wraps around the forearm and elbow.

A shoulder sling is a simple but usually effective medical tool. Generally constructed of sturdy fabric or flexible vinyl, the sling, which is worn over the top of clothing, consists of a pocket to hold the lower arm and a strap to secure it to the body. To wear a sling, one simply slides the injured arm — or if the shoulder is injured, the corresponding arm — into the pocket of the sling, which should support the arm from elbow to wrist. The sling’s strap is placed over the injured person’s head, and rests on the shoulder opposite the injured side of the body. When worn correctly, a shoulder sling should hold the arm close to the wearer’s body, keeping the elbow bent at 90 degrees.

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Worn correctly, a shoulder sling will greatly restrict the movement of one shoulder and one arm. Mostly, this type of sling is employed in an effort to immobilize the shoulder joints and surrounding muscles. Sometimes, though, shoulder slings can be used to stabilize arm injuries, for example, in the case of a sprained wrist, a sling will keep the arm close to the body to increase comfort and help protect it from further injury. Either way, an individual who is required to wear a shoulder sling will be greatly dependent on his or her unrestricted arm and hand to complete daily activities.

While using a shoulder sling can be an important part of the healing process, patients should remember that relying too heavily on a sling and forgoing all movement can potentially be detrimental. Doctors are the best qualified to describe exactly how often a sling should be worn according to the type and severity of injury. Typically, slings will be removed on a daily basis at least long enough to perform basic tasks such as bathing and dressing. Removing the sling may also be necessary if a doctor mandates small amounts of movement or soothing exercises to aid in rehabilitation.

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