How do arm slings treat injuries?
Arm slings are over-the-counter (OTC) items that do not require a prescription from a doctor for reimbursement through FSAs, HSAs and HRAs. In the event of a broken bone in the shoulder, arm or wrist, arm slings are one of the most reliable methods of immobilizing the affected area and preventing it from moving, which is critical to ensuring that the broken bones set correctly and heal in a timely fashion. Whether an arm sling is used is dependent on the type of fracture that has taken place. Fractures fall into the following categories:
Bone fracture classifications
- Closed Fracture: When the bone is fractured, there is no puncture or open wound through the skin.
- Open Fracture: Also known as a compound fracture, this severe bone break refers to the bone or splinters breaking through the skin.
- Buckle Fracture: One side of the bone is compressed, which causes the other side of the bone to buckle and bend.
- Displaced Fracture: This type of break features many bone fragments that aren't completely aligned. Typically, this will require surgery to re-set the bones so they can heal together.
- Comminuted Fracture: The bone is broken into completely separate pieces, which may require surgery if it cannot be manually re-set.
- Greenstick Fracture: Typically more common in children whose bones are more flexible, this refers to a fracture that breaks the bone, but not all the way through.
How to properly wear an arm sling
If a physician recommends an arm sling to treat a bone fracture, this will require a variety of lifestyle and behavioral changes to be worn effectively. When putting on the sling each time, be sure to be mindful of:
- Arm positioning: The arm sling must be able to fully support the affected area, so if the sling is too loose, this can put unnecessary strain on the arm or shoulder. Slings should support the arm and forearm and kept at a 90-degree angle for optimal effectiveness.
- Tightness: If the sling is being worn too tightly, this can inhibit blood flow and stunt the healing process and may lead to unnecessary inflammation. If any numbness or swelling occurs, consult a doctor or physical therapist to find the optimal setting for the sling.
- Stiffness: While immobilization is the goal of arm slings, individuals should aim to regularly loosen or release the sling to exercise or move the elbow, wrist and hand. Stiffness in these joints can become a problem over time, so performing this light exercise/stretching four times each day will prevent any lingering discomfort.