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How to Make a Sling for Your Arm

Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on July 25, 2022

If you’ve injured your arm and you can't immediately access medical care, you may opt to make your own arm sling at home. Luckily, this is easy to do and can help keep your arm still until you're able to see a doctor. Here, we’ll explain what a sling does for an injured arm and how to make one yourself.

What Is an Arm Sling Used For?

Slings are devices you use to stabilize and immobilize your arm and shoulder in the event of injury. These injuries may include:

  • Broken bones
  • Dislocated shoulder, elbow, or wrist (when the bones are pulled or moved from the joint)
  • Arm or shoulder surgery

By keeping your arm from moving, a sling can help speed up the healing process and prevent further damage. In some cases, a sling may be used in tandem with a cast or splint, which are devices used to immobilize and support broken bones.

What Materials Do I Need to Make an Arm Sling?

In most cases, you can get a sling from the doctor or hospital you visit for your injured arm. But if medical care isn’t an option, you can make your own sling at home with a large piece of cloth measuring about 40 inches per side and a pair of scissors.

If you’re in an emergency, you can also make a temporary sling out of:

  • A bedsheet
  • A coat or shirt
  • A belt, rope, or necktie

Instructions for Making and Putting On an Arm Sling

Making an arm sling with a large piece of cloth isn't difficult. But you might struggle to complete some steps without help, depending on the severity of your injury. Seek help with the following procedure before trying it on your own:

  1. Cut the cloth in half diagonally to create a triangle. If you have fabric but no scissors, fold the cloth from corner to corner.
  2. With the longest edge facing away from you, place your elbow at corner near your body and your wrist on the long edge.
  3. Take the other two points of the triangle and put them around either side of your neck, meeting behind the neck.
  4. Adjust these ends so that your hand is higher than your elbow, then tie the ends behind your neck. Alternatively, you can use a safety pin if a knot is uncomfortable.

If you’re in an emergency — for example, if you’re out camping and have limited access to resources — there are other things you can use to temporarily improvise a sling. A sheet or pillowcase can be used instead of a square of cloth. Or use a long-sleeved t-shirt, sweatshirt, or coat by tying the sleeves behind your neck and supporting your arm in the loop made.

How Should My Sling Fit?

Your sling should fit your arm comfortably, and you shouldn't be in any additional pain. When wearing your sling, your wrist should be elevated above your elbow. In a properly fitted sling, you should be able to see your fingertips.

Make sure the tie isn’t putting undue stress on your neck or shoulder. If it starts to rub or irritate your skin, wear a collared shirt or put some padding between the tie and your skin.

Types of Medical Arm Slings

Once you get to the doctor or emergency room, they’ll likely give you a medical-grade sling to replace the one you’ve made. Depending on your injury, they may give you one of three main types of sling:

  • Broad arm slings are the most common type of arm sling. You use them for shoulder, arm, wrist, and hand injuries. 
  • High arm slings keep your hand or wrist elevated to reduce swelling.
  • Collar and cuff slings have loops that fasten around your wrist and are beneficial for shoulder and elbow injuries.

You may be able to purchase these types of slings online or at your local drug store as well. The benefit of slings like these is that they're often adjustable and made with sturdy material.

Depending on your injury, your doctor may also recommend a swathe. This cloth band goes over the sling and across your chest or abdomen to prevent you from lifting your arm.

To put on a medical broad arm or high arm sling: 

  1. Sit down and lay the sling on your lap with the top opening facing your body. 
  2. If the sling has a closed corner for elbow support, be sure the closed corner is on the same side of your lap as the injured arm.
  3. Place your arm into the sling, pull the strap around your neck, and secure it.

How Long Should I Wear My Sling?

How long you need to wear your sling for will depend on your injury. The best person to tell you this is your doctor.

In most cases, you won't need to wear your sling while bathing or sleeping.

Do I Need a Splint First?

Depending on your injury, you may need a splint and a sling. Splints can be used for broken or dislocated bones, strains, sprains, and ruptured tendons.

If you’re using a splint, watch out for discoloration, numbness, or tingling in the surrounding skin. This can indicate that the splint is too tight or not fitted properly.

Tips for Using a Sling

If you aren’t used to wearing a sling, here are a few tips to prevent further injury and speed up the healing process:

  • Remove any jewelry, such as watches, bracelets, or rings, until any swelling has gone down.
  • Use ice to reduce swelling, but don't apply the ice directly to your skin. Wrap it in a towel and apply it to the swollen area for about 10 minutes every 4 to 6 hours.
  • Try to keep your arm elevated for the first few days after the injury.
  • If possible, remove the sling to move your joints regularly. This will help prevent stiffness.
  • Follow your doctor’s instructions, and don’t wear the sling more often than necessary.
  • Consult your doctor immediately if you see a large increase in swelling or if you start to notice a lack of circulation in your fingers. This includes numbness, tingling, or your fingers turning blue or white.

There’s nothing wrong with making a sling at home, but seek medical attention if possible to ensure the best possible recovery.

Show Sources

SOURCES:

Cleveland Clinic: “Casts & Splints.”

Harvard Health: "How to Make a Sling."

NHS: “Slings and Wrist Splints.”

Sports Rec: "How to Make a Shoulder Sling From a T-Shirt"

Tufts Medical Center: “Sling: How to Use.”

UHN: “How to Use a Sling”.

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