When your shoulder is dislocated or fractured, or you have undergone surgery for such condition, your doctor is bound to prescribe you a sling. This serves to immobilise that part of the body until it heals.
You can’t trust yourself to keep your undermined shoulder in place without a sling; the body is prone to involuntary motions.
Say you’re stepping down the stairs. You trip. Your instantaneous reaction would be to reach for the railing with either one of your arms. The scenario would be disastrous if it should involve the injured or operated shoulder. Result: The orthopaedic surgeon’s work goes to waste.
Wearing a sling is not the end of it too. It is highly important that you wear it properly. Likewise, you should learn to wean yourself off the sling at some point, as overwearing would burden the very tissues the sling must protect.
How to fit a sling
1. Sometimes the injury calls for a combination of a splint and sling. In such a case, wear the sling over the splint.
2. When fitting a sling, make sure your elbow is at a 90-degree angle. If you don’t have someone to assist you, take a seat and place your arm over a pillow to achieve this position.
3. You can stop blood and fluid from accumulating in your wrist and hand by tightening the strap in such a way that your forearm is above elbow level. For maximum comfort, place a piece of terry cloth under the strap where it goes around your neck.
4. Many slings come with body belts, which are designed to prevent your elbow from jerking away from your torso. Ensure that the body belt does not girth you too tightly though. As a rule of thumb, there must be a space of three fingers between the belt and your body.
How long should you wear a sling?
While your shoulder needs minimal movement to heal properly, absolute immobilisation can be disadvantageous. The flexibility and strength of your shoulder may decrease, if not stiffen altogether.
Your doctor will know when it is time to get out of your sling. Ask him or her what is the earliest time possible to begin removing it. Remember, the key word here is ‘begin’: You must never give up the sling abruptly. Slowly wean yourself off it.
In fact, take time to loosen the sling, at least four times a day. Use the opportunity to move your hand, wrist and elbow.
When you’re in the latter stages of recovery, try removing your sling at home, the office, or a similarly impediment-free environment. Let the shoulder assume a resting position as normally as it can. As you approach full recovery, reserve the wearing of sling for social functions and public activities.
As you enter convalescence, talk to a physical therapist about ways to boost range of motion in your shoulder. He or she can prescribe certain ‘pendulum exercises’ as well as other activities designed to restore mobility.
On the other hand, it can be very easy to get used to a sling after wearing one for a lengthy period of time. Often, such reluctance is brought about by a fear of pain and diminished range of motion. You need to overcome this psychological barrier. Talk to your orthopaedist if you must.
First things first
Remember to attend to all wounds prior to applying a splint or sling. If you notice bone on the affected area, contact the nearest medical centre immediately.