Why use a sling?
If you have sustained an injury to your body that includes the arm, elbow or shoulder (upper limb) you will likely require a sling. Slings are used to ease pain, support healing and to protect your arm from further injury.
Main types of slings used in the emergency department
Broad-arm sling or elevation sling
Used for elevation, comfort and protection of injured arms, wrists and hands:
- Injuries or infections to the fingers, hand, wrist or the end of the forearm (distal forearm)
- Support of above the elbow splints and casts
Note: the hand should be slightly elevated above the level of the elbow.
Used for elevation, comfort and protection of injuries or infections below the level of the elbow:
- Injuries/infections to the fingers, hand, wrist, or distal forearm
- Support of below elbow splints and casts
Note: the hand should be elevated high above the level of the elbow.
Collar and cuff sling
Used for injuries to the shoulder, elbow or collarbone:
- Fractured collarbone or upper arm
Shoulder immobiliser sling
Used for limiting shoulder and arm movement. This type of sling is commonly needed for:
- Shoulder dislocation, separation or surgery
- Collar bone separation (acromioclavicular (AC) subluxation)
- Injury to muscles and tendons surrounding the shoulder joint (rotator cuff injuries)
You will be shown by a member of staff how to wear your sling before you leave hospital.
It is important to maintain correct posture whilst wearing your sling as this may help to decrease your pain.
Try to avoid slumping or rounding your shoulders when you are standing and sitting, as this can increase the stress placed on your shoulder.
You will be advised on exercises you should do that are specific to you and your injury. These exercises may include moving uninjured joints in your arm.
It is recommended that you do neck exercises to avoid your neck becoming stiff while wearing the sling. These exercises involve moving your neck in all directions:
- Up and down
- Left and right (by looking over each shoulder)
- Side to side (using ear to shoulder movements)
It is important you wear your sling in bed for the recommended period, unless you are instructed otherwise. Your doctor or physiotherapist will advise you about this.
It is best if you sleep on your back or unaffected side. When lying on your back, we suggest you use a pillow underneath your injured arm for support.
When lying on your unaffected side, we suggest you use a pillow underneath your injured arm for support, and behind your back. This is to prevent you from rolling onto your injured arm in the night.
If you have had any dressings or bandages applied, it is important for them to stay dry when you wash yourself.
You can remove your sling when bathing or showering, but it is important to keep your arm close to your body to limit movement.
If you are washing yourself using a bowl and sponge, we recommend you:
- rest your injured arm on a table whilst you wash
- ensure your skin is dry, especially under your armpit, as this will prevent skin irritation
- seek assistance, if required, to wash and dress your unaffected arm.
While you are wearing the sling, we recommend you wear loose-fitting or front-opening clothes, such as a shirt or blouse, as they are easier to get on and off.
Make sure you put your injured arm into your clothes first. Once you have dressed your upper body, remember to place your arm back into the sling.
Wearing a sling continuously can increase the risk of joint stiffness. However, a physiotherapist can advise you on exercises you can do to reduce joint stiffness.
What to expect
It’s important to know the signs that you are not healing as planned so you can alert your doctor. Receiving prompt care is critical to treating issues that you may experience.
Call your doctor if you notice any of the following signs:
- Chronic pain or pain that is worsening, especially any pain that is worse on movement
- Drainage from any wound (if you have one)
- If you develop a fever
- Any worsening swelling
- Any shortness of breath that is new
In a medical emergency call an ambulance – dial triple zero (000). If you have any concerns, see your local doctor or healthcare professional. If this is not possible return to the emergency department or urgent care centre.
For more information
|Evidence informed||Based on rapid evidence check of grey literature, and where there is no research, based on clinical expert consensus.|
|Collaboration||Developed in collaboration with the Agency for Clinical Innovation (ACI) Emergency Care Institute members and the ACI Musculoskeletal Network.|
|Currency||Due for review: November 2027.|
Accessed from the Emergency Care Institute website