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Living with a Shoulder Sling

Ben underwent a shoulder stabilisation operation. Below he describes how he managed after the operation, with tips for others undergoing shoulder surgery.


Two weeks ago I woke up in the hospital ward with my left arm in a sling, including a body band. This I was told I would be wearing for 6 weeks.

After post-op sleep, some water and a bite to eat it suddenly became very obvious just how restricted I now was. With my left arm in the sling it now meant that everything on that side of me was now inaccessable (I had not thought about this before the op) so its a good idea to move the table/locker to the side of your good arm before the operation.

I was given a local anesthetic (interscalene block) which made my whole arm and shoulder numb. This wore off completely about 4 hours after I woke up from the op and was the first pain I felt, the pain is not sharp like I thought it would be but more of a mild ache. Painkillers helped me to sleep.

Sleeping had to be on my back and the key to this is pillows. Loads of them!! My bed looked more like a nest but it was very comfy, having 3 or 4 pillows behind my head, a couple under my left arm and a few spares lying around for good measure and more support as I needed it.

I had my operation in the summer holidays. This I think was a very good time because it was warm enough to chill out round the house and make the odd trip out in just a pair of board shorts and loose short sleeve shirt, comfy and easy to get on. Forget about, belts socks and drawstrings requiring bows without a lot of time and practise or assistance. Being summer also meant i could wear flip flops for most of the time, this save so much hassle compared to socks/shoe laces!!

Once I was back home I had 2 weeks before I had to go back to hospital for physio, this was my first goal and I wanted to make sure I recovered as best I could before then. This I did by keeping my shoulder as still as possible and healing was much more rapid than I thought it would be. The most important thing I found was to remember to always make sure the sling was supporting the weight of my arm and that I wasnt carrying it around. This happens when the sling gets stretched over time and this is easily fixed by adjusting the velcro attachments to bring the fore arm to horizontal. The velcro can also be adjusted when I was walking, sitting or laying down to make myself more comfortable. This is probably a personal thing but I found slackening both straps when sleeping and tightening both when walking around helped a lot.

Washing and eating are the biggest hassles, but I found that both are easy to get around as long as there's no rush!!
The sling should not be got to wet as it takes ages to dry and after a few weeks at body temp probably wont be to hygenic, but careful showering from the waist down is possible if you have a detachable shower head. Take care doing this as I nearly slipped on my first 1 handed, balancing wash act, not fun!! The waist up can be washed with a flannel or small sponge and warm soapy water. Baby wash shower/bath gel is the best because you can mix it with the water, dunk the flannel, wring out and wipe down without having to rinse, saves time and getting the sling to wet! Armpits are never the freshest place but with my arm close by my side it didnt take long to get sweaty, regular washing is really important and somthing similar (but more serious) to athletes foot can develop if you dont keep clean. I washed twice a day and have no problems. Once the wound above my armpit had healed I started using a little anti perspirant deoderant spray, this is alcohol free and really helped.


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