A fracture cannot heal unless it is prevented from moving. Immobilization also helps the bone fragments fuse together by keeping them in the correct position. Your doctor may recommend wearing an immobilization device, such as a sling, splint, or cast, for a few weeks or longer, depending on the location and severity of a fracture.
A sling is a device made of flexible fabric that loops around the neck or back and holds your arm in a bent position in front of your chest. Many slings have adjustable Velcro® straps so you can customize the positioning of your arm, helping it to remain both immobile and comfortable.
Slings are more commonly prescribed for people with a shoulder fracture. For a fractured clavicle, a sling may be worn for four to six weeks. For a fractured proximal humerus, a sling may be needed for up to two weeks. For a fractured scapula, doctors usually recommend wearing a sling until you can move the shoulder without significant pain—anywhere from two to four weeks.
For elbow fractures, a doctor may recommend a sling if a fracture occurs in the radial head, which is located at the end of the forearm bone called the radius.
A splint is a rigid device that conforms to the shape of your arm and is held in place with soft straps. Your doctor may recommend a splint if you have a fractured distal humerus or olecranon, the bony tip of the elbow.
A splint may be used to hold your elbow at a specific angle, if your doctor determines that is the best position to allow the fracture to heal. Splints are typically required for one to three weeks, or longer for people who have more severe fractures.
If you have fractured the bony tip of your elbow, the olecranon, your doctor may recommend immobilizing the arm in a plaster cast for about three weeks.
To make a cast, doctors apply soft, malleable plaster to the arm. The plaster hardens when it dries, protecting the injured bone and preventing you from moving your elbow while it heals.
No matter which type of immobilization your doctor determines is right for you, he or she may schedule follow-up visits at NYU Langone once a week during the first two months after the injury to monitor the healing process. During these follow-up visits, a doctor may take new X-rays of the shoulder or elbow to see how well the bone is healing.