How to Make a Sling

Written by Debra Stang | Published on July 16, 2012
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD

What Is a Sling?

A sling is a medical device designed to help people with broken or dislocated arms or shoulders. It supports, cradles, and immobilizes the injured arm.

You can buy slings at most major pharmacies. However, you can also create your own sling when an injury first occurs. A sling will ease an injured person’s discomfort until he or she can get to a doctor.

What You Need to Make a Sling

Ideally, you will have access to a large, sturdy piece of cloth that measures about 5 feet wide by 3 feet long. If you aren’t lucky enough to have a cloth like that, you can improvise. Try using a large T-shirt, coat, or sheet. Even a narrow item, such as a belt or a vine, will do. However, these items should not be your first choice.

A pair of scissors or pocketknife will come in handy as you craft your sling.

How to Apply a Sling

Before attempting to apply the sling, check the injured arm or shoulder for wounds. If you find a bleeding cut or scrape, stop the bleeding with direct pressure. Then, cover the area with a bandage, a piece of gauze, or a cloth.

If the person requires both a sling and a splint, as in the case of a broken bone, place the splint first. (A splint is a more rigid device used to protect and immobilize an injured body part).

Once you have attended to the more serious wounds, cut a triangle out of the cloth or fold in into a triangle shape.

Position the triangle so that the person’s elbow is at the top point and his or her wrist rests at the center of the bottom edge. Gently bring the two remaining corners up and tie them at the back of the person’s neck. Pad the knot with a piece of cloth so that it doesn’t rub a sore spot on the neck.

Aftercare

The injured arm should now be comfortably supported against the chest. Tie the sling so that the elbow is bent at a right angle. The hand should be positioned slightly higher than the elbow.

To further immobilize the arm, tie the sling around the chest with a strip of cloth or a belt. Make sure to tie the knot on the uninjured side of the body.

Keep an eye on the person’s fingers. You will need to loosen or remove the sling if they begin to:

  • swell
  • feel cold
  • take on a bluish tinge

If the arm in the sling is also splinted, you may need to loosen the splint as well.

Applying ice to the injured arm or shoulder can decrease swelling and numb pain.

As soon as you are sure the arm is stabilized, call 911 or take the injured person to an emergency room or urgent care center.

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