Using a sling after shoulder surgery

After shoulder surgery it’s common for the first few weeks that you use a sling day and night. How long you’re using it, and what kind of sling you’re using, depends on what kind of surgery that has been done.

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​On this page, you can read about how to put on and take off the most used slings, how you can dress and undress, easy tips for washing and circulatory exercises for hand, wrist and elbow.


In the beginning, you should use the sling both night and day. You can take the sling off during dressing and undressing, while showering and when doing exercises. 

Dressing and hygiene

When dressing, you should start with the operated side first. When putting on a shirt, use the arm on the non-operated side to pull on the sleeve on the operated side. Then put on the sleeve on non-operated side. When putting on a t-shirt, pull on the sleeve of the operated side first. Then bundle up the shirt before pulling the head through the head opening. Finally, place your non-operated side into the sleeve. 
To clean in the armpit on the operated side, lean slightly forward/to the side so that the operated arm hangs passively down, but slightly away from the body. Then you can use the other hand to wash your armpit.

Resting position

When you’re awake, you can rest without the sling. When you’re lying down, you can place pillows under and behind the arm as shown in the picture, as well as under the forearm and hand. You should feel that your arm and body are relaxed. You can also use cooling/ice when needed for pain relief.

Pillow sling

In some cases you will get a pillow sling instead of a regular sling. The video below shows how this is put on and taken off.


Circulation exercises

It is important to start with simple exercises quickly after surgery. This improves circulation and maintains mobility in your arm. The following exercises can be done after most shoulder surgeries, and after the surgery you may also get more specific exercises adapted to the surgery you have undergone. The exercises are done without the sling on, and can be done in seated or standing position. 

  • Clench and open your hand
  • Flex and extend your elbow without any resistance or weight. Focus on extending the elbow fully.
  • Lift your shoulders up to your ears, hold for short period of time, and slowly release. 
  • Pull your shoulders back and together (Imagine your shoulder blades meeting in the middle of your back). Hold and release.

Pendulum exercises

Support yourself, e.g. to the back of a chair. Lean slightly forward and make small pendulum movements with your operated arm. You can alternate by pendling back/forwards, to the side and making circles.
IMPORTANT: The shoulder should be relaxed when performing this exercise.


Activation exercise

Keep your operated elbow flexed. With your non-operated hand give a very slight push outwards, while resisting the movement with your operated hand. You can also do the same the other way, i.e. giving a slight push inwards and resisting with your operated hand.
The operated shoulder should NOT move during any point of this exercise, nor should there be any more pain after this exercise.

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