How to Wear a Shoulder Sling

Proper use improves healing and recovery time

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After an injury to your shoulderelbow, arm, or wrist, you might need to wear a sling to protect it while you’re healing.

A shoulder sling keeps your arm against your body and prevents you from moving it too much. However, if you wear a shoulder sling the wrong way, you might slow healing or injure your arm more.

This article goes over why you might need a shoulder sling, how to wear one correctly, and common mistakes to avoid when wearing a sling.

A person with a shoulder sling for an injury - stock photo

topten22photo / Getty Images

Common Reasons for a Shoulder Sling

Common reasons for needing to wear a sling include:

  • Injuries: If you hurt your shoulder, elbow, arm, or wrist, you might need to be put in a sling for a while as you recover. Slings are often used for sprains, dislocations, and tears (e.g., rotator cuff).
  • Fractures: If you have a broken shoulder fractureelbow, or wrist, it's important to limit your arm movements to make sure the broken bones can heal properly.
  • Shoulder surgery: After a rotator cuff surgery, using your muscles too much and too soon can tear the fixed muscle. Wearing a sling helps prevent this and gives your shoulder time to heal.
  • Other injuries and surgeries: If you injure or have surgery on another part of your upper body, your surgeon might put you in a sling to help with the healing process.
  • After a stroke: If you have a stroke, you may lose feeling in a limb or be unable to move it. If your shoulder is not moving right after a stroke, it can hurt if it’s just hanging at your side. Wearing a sling can help keep you comfortable.

How Long Will I Be in a Sling?

A shoulder sling is generally used for between four and six weeks after a surgery or injury. Your provider will give you an idea of the expected the timeline for your recovery.

Types of Shoulder Slings

There are a few different kinds of shoulder slings. The one you’ll have to wear will depend on why you need it.

Examples of shoulder sling types include: 

  • Broad arm sling or standard sling: This is the “classic” arm sling that keeps your arm bent and supported in front of your body, with your wrist a little higher than your elbow. It’s commonly used for broken bones and sprains.
  • High arm or shoulder sling: This sling is like a standard arm sling but keeps your arm up higher. This type of sling is more common for shoulder injuries because it’s designed to prevent your shoulder from moving and keep it protected while it’s healing. 
  • Collar and cuff: This sling goes around your neck and around your risk, keeping it elevated. It’s sometimes recommended for shoulder or elbow injuries, but is most often used for injured or dislocated collarbones.

If you can’t move your injured arm or shoulder at all, you may need to be in an immobilizer instead of a sling. It’s similar to a sling but keeps your arm closer to your body and has bands that go around your chest, arm, and wrist.  

How to Wear Your Shoulder Sling


Click Play to Learn How to Wear a Sling

This video has been medically reviewed by Oluseun Olufade, MD.

To put on a shoulder sling the right way:

  1. Gently pull the sling over your arm and elbow. It should fit snugly around your elbow. Your hand should be at the very end of the sling. The sling should not cut into your wrist or hand. If your hand flops down, your sling might be too small.
  2. Reach around your neck and grab the strap behind your elbow. 
  3. Pull the strap around the back of your neck and push it through the loop near your hand.
  4. Tighten the straps to keep your hand and forearm elevated above the level of your elbow. This keeps blood and fluid from pooling in your hand and wrist.
  5. Attach the strap with the fasteners. You might want to put a small piece of soft cloth under the strap to make it more comfortable around your neck.
  6. If your sling has a strap that goes around your back to keep the elbow close to your body, reach behind to pull the strap around your back and fasten it near your hand. Make sure it's not too tight. Two or three fingers should fit between your body and the strap.

Your shoulder sling should fit comfortably and not feel tight. It should keep your shoulder, elbow, and wrist in a relaxed position as you go about your day-to-day life.

Daily Tasks With a Sling

Going about your usual daily life with a sling can be challenging and you’ll need to ask others for help and support during your recovery. 

Here are a few tips for going about your daily life while you’re wearing a sling.

Personal Care

Right after an injury or surgery, you may need someone to help you with washing up and dressing, especially if you’re still in pain and trying to get used to wearing a sling.

Once you’re a little more confident about taking care of these tasks on your own, you may need to practice using your non-dominant arm to do things like brush your teeth if it's your dominant side that is recovering.

You may find it easier to bathe yourself using a sponge in your non-injured hand. Drying off by putting on a fluffy robe instead of trying to wrangle a towel may also be helpful.

Shirts and pants that don't need to be fastened (e.g., no buttons or zippers) will make getting dressed by yourself easier. Likewise, slip-on shoes will be easier than trying to tie laces.

Getting Around

You will not be able to drive or ride a bicycle while you’re wearing a sling, so you’ll need to rely on other people to get to your appointments or go to the store.

If you live close by, you might be able to walk to some of these places once you’re feeling up to it—just make sure that you don’t accidentally get bumped into on your injured side.

If you have stairs at home, be very careful going up and down. Your balance might be a little off when you’re in a sling. Use the banister with your non-injured hand to keep yourself steady and safe.

Chores and Errands

As with other tasks, you’ll need help doing things around the house that require lifting and pulling, such as making beds and bringing groceries in.

As you start healing, you might find that some tasks (like vacuuming) can be done one-handed using the arm that’s not healing. However, be careful and avoid doing anything too strenuous or that could put you in danger (e.g., falling, burning yourself in the kitchen, etc.).

If you can, have groceries delivered or have someone pick them up for you. If surgery is planned, do as much shopping and cooking as you can beforehand.


You might find eating anything that requires utensils too challenging if your dominant arm is in the sling. It can also be tricky to lift a cup to your mouth for a drink.

Using straws and sticking to meals and snacks that don’t necessarily require too much handiwork can help until you’re able to start using your other hand again. 


You do need to wear your sling to bed because it’s important to keep your arm from moving while you sleep. Ask your provider or physical therapist if you can loosen the sling a bit while you’re laying down.

You may find it easier to sleep sitting up in a chair or propped up with pillows in your bed while you have to wear a sling.

If you have not been able to sleep in the sling despite trying different positions, ask your provider if you could take it off at night.

When Can I Take Off My Sling?

As your arm gets better and stronger, you may not need to wear your sling all the time. How long you'll have to wear a sling will depend on your injury and how you're healing. You can discuss the timeline with your provider or physical therapist.

As your healing progresses, your provider will let you know if there are times that you can take your sling off. For example, you might be able to take off your sling to:

  • Bathe
  • Dress
  • Do physical therapy exercises
  • Bend and straighten your elbow and move your fingers a few times a day

Common Mistakes When Wearing a Shoulder Sling

Common mistakes that people make when wearing a shoulder sling can cause discomfort and slow the healing process. Your provider or physical therapist can help you avoid making these mistakes. 

Common Mistakes For Wearing a Shoulder Sling
 Verywell / Theresa Chiechi

The Sling Is Too Loose

The shoulder sling should keep your elbow at a 90-degree angle. A sling that is too loose will cause the arm to hang too low or even straighten.

This position doesn't give your shoulder, elbow, and wrist the support they need. Without it, the weight of your arm puts stress and strain on your arm and shoulder as they are healing.

Your arm may also suddenly fall out of the sling if it's hanging too low.

The sling should support your arm firmly against your body without lifting it. Your shoulder should be in a stable, neutral position (not higher or lower than normal).

If you're not sure if the sling is too tight or too lose, ask your provider or physical therapist to check it for you.

The Shoulder Sling Is Too Tight

A shoulder sling that's too tight can limit blood flow to and from your elbow and hand. If blood isn’t getting to your arm, it’s not getting oxygen to your tissues, which can cause damage and impede healing.

Ask your provider or physical therapist to adjust your sling if your arm, hand, or fingers:

  • Feel numb
  • Tingle
  • Swell
  • Feel cold
  • Turn blue

You're Not Exercising Nearby Muscles

The goal of wearing a shoulder sling is to protect your shoulder and arm as it heals. However, you should still use some of the muscles of your arm and hand during your recovery.

The sling is designed to limit your shoulder mobility, so it can decrease your arm's range of motion (ROM) and strength. However, there are steps you can take to avoid that. 

During your recovery, your provider may tell you to take off the sling and do some no-impact pendulum circle exercises two to three times a day. These movements help keep your joints mobile.

Handgrip exercises with therapy putty provide resistance and can help your wrist and forearm get stronger.


Wearing a shoulder sling helps your arm or shoulder heal after an upper-body injury or surgery. You also may need to wear a sling after a stroke or if you have an elbow or shoulder fracture. 

It's important to wear and use a sling correctly to prevent further injury and help your shoulder heal. Your sling should not be too loose or too tight, and your arm should rest comfortably next to your body at a 90-degree angle.

If you’re not sure how to wear your sling, ask your provider or PT to adjust it for you.

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Cleveland Clinic. Shoulder fractures.

  2. Hollman F, Wolterbeek N, Zijl JAC, van Egeraat SPM, Wessel RN. Abduction brace versus antirotation sling after arthroscopic cuff repair: the effects on pain and functionArthroscopy: The Journal of Arthroscopic & Related Surgery. 2017;33(9):1618-1626. doi:10.1016/j.arthro.2017.02.010

  3. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Arm care after a stroke.

  4. Johns Hopkins Medicine, The Johns Hopkins Hospital Patient Information. Instructions for wearing your shoulder immobilizer brace.

By Brett Sears, PT
Brett Sears, PT, MDT, is a physical therapist with over 20 years of experience in orthopedic and hospital-based therapy.