How to Properly Wear a Shoulder Sling

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After an injury to your shoulder, elbow, or wrist, you may need to put a belt on your arm for protection while healing.

Shoulder straps keep your arms against your body. It prevents you from moving your arm too much while you are healing from an injury. If you wear it the wrong way, you could slow down the healing process or injure the arm more.

This article will show you when you need a sling, how to wear it properly, and the mistakes to avoid.

Common reasons for a sling

There are many cases where you may need to keep your arm in a sling after an injury. Including:

  • After a broken bone: If you have a shoulder, elbow, or wrist fracture, it’s important to limit your arm movement to help the bone heal. The sling keeps your arm in place.
  • After shoulder surgery: You may need a sling so that the muscles around your shoulder don’t become too tight and interfere with the healing process. After rotator cuff surgery, using your muscles too hard can tear the repaired muscle. The sling prevents this from happening.
  • After a stroke: A stroke is a serious injury and can cause paralysis in your arms, legs, or both. If your shoulder doesn’t move correctly, it can hurt because it hangs on your side. A sling helps support your arm and doesn’t let it pull uncomfortably in your shoulder.

Your healthcare provider may recommend wearing a sling as your body is also healing from surgery or other trauma to the body.


You may need to wear a shoulder belt after you have had a stroke, shoulder surgery, or if you have broken your shoulder, elbow, or wrist. The sling will keep your arm in place and can help your muscles heal properly.

How to wear your sling

Verywell / Theresa Chiechi

If you must wear a sling, it’s important to wear it correctly to prevent fluid and blood from pooling in your hands and wrists and to make sure your arm heals.

To wear the shoulder sling properly:

  1. Gently pull the sling over your arms and elbows. It should fit snugly around the elbow. Your hand should be at the end of the sling. The end of the sling should not cut into your wrist or hand. If your hand is hanging from your wrist, your sling is probably too small.
  2. Loop around your neck and grab the strap behind your elbow. Pull the strap behind your neck and push it through the loop near your hand.
  3. Strap to keep your hand and forearm above your elbow level. This keeps blood and fluid from pooling in your hands and wrists.
  4. Attach the strap with a Velcro buckle. You can put a small soft cloth under the strap to make it more comfortable to wrap around your neck.
  5. Some slings have a strap that goes around your back to keep your elbows close to your body. If your strap has one, reach behind to pull the strap around your back and tie it close to your hand. Make sure the strap is not too tight. You can fit two or three fingers between your body and the strap of the sling.

Your sling should fit comfortably and not feel tight. It should keep your shoulders, elbows, and wrists in a comfortable position so you can carry on with your daily life.

Click Play to learn how to wear a sling

Common mistake

There are common mistakes people often make when wearing shoulder slings. If you use it the wrong way, it can be annoying and slow healing process. A health care provider or physical therapist can help you avoid these pitfalls.

Carrying too loose

If the sling doesn’t support your shoulders, elbows, and wrists, it won’t keep your arms steady. This can put unnecessary stress and strain on your arms.

Make sure the sling supports your arms and forearms, and keeps your elbows at a 90-degree angle. If your elbows are too straight, the sling may be too loose.

Carrying too tight

A sling that is too tight can restrict blood flow to and from your elbows and hands. This prevents oxygen from reaching your tissues and can damage your arms, hands, or fingers.

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

  • Feeling numb
  • Tinkling
  • Swollen
  • Feel cold
  • Turn blue

Arms hang too low

When you wear a shoulder sling, your arms should not hang too low. If this is the case, the weight of your arm can put more stress and strain on the healing arm and shoulder. Also, your arm could suddenly fall out of the sling if it hangs too low.

Keep your elbows bent at 90 degrees while you wear the sling. The sling should support your arms firmly against your body without lifting. Your shoulders should be in a stable and neutral position, no higher or lower than normal.

If you’re not sure if the sling is properly turned on, ask your healthcare provider or physiotherapist to adjust it.

You are not working the neighboring muscles

The goal of the sling is to protect your shoulder and arm as it heals. But you should still use some muscles of your arms and hands during your recovery.

The sling is designed to limit your shoulder mobility. As a result, it can reduce your range of motion (ROM) and arm strength—unless you take steps to avoid it.

During your recovery, your healthcare provider may ask you to remove your sling and perform non-impact pendulum circle exercises two to three times per day. This helps keep your joints mobile.

Additionally, hand exercises with therapeutic putty can provide resistance and strengthen your wrists and forearms.


Just because you wear a shoulder belt doesn’t mean you should let the muscles around you weaken. Talk to your healthcare provider about performing exercises that are safe to keep your wrists, hands, and forearms from becoming too weak.


Wearing a shoulder belt can be key to helping your arm or shoulder heal after an injury or upper body surgery. You may need to wear a sling after you have had a stroke or if you have broken your elbow or shoulder. But it is important to use it correctly.

If you do, you can prevent further injury and help your muscles heal faster. Make sure the sling is not too loose or too tight and keep your arms next to your body.

A very good word

All the straps and loops can cause a bit of anxiety if you have to wear a sling. As you practice, you should be able to comfortably wear it to allow your arm to heal safely and properly. If you feel you need more help with a sling, see your healthcare provider or physical therapist.

Once the wound has healed, you may need to do exercises to improve your arm’s strength and range of motion. Improving mobility can help you return to your pre-injury condition.

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