Formerly known as Alaska Hand-Elbow-Shoulder & Rhyneer Caylor Clinic.

Vintage car dashboard

Should you drive in an arm sling?

“When can I drive?” and “can I drive in a sling?” are common questions we hear from patients after shoulder surgery or treatment of other upper extremity injuries and conditions. The better question is should you drive in an arm sling.

A recent study published in the Journal of Shoulder and Elbow Surgery sought to answer whether sling immobilization of the dominant driving arm had an effect on driving performance and safety. The researchers hypothesized that sling immobilization of the dominant driving arm would impede a driver’s ability to drive. Utilizing a simulated driving circuit, the researchers created a mock driving experience for study participants. The control group was made up of non-immobilized drivers, while the experimental group was made up of drivers immobilized in a simple shoulder sling. Driving performance was evaluated by the number of “collisions” (or the number of simulated on-road hazards that were struck by the driver) such as an oncoming car or pedestrian.

While there was no difference between immobilized drivers and non-immobilized drivers in routine driving scenarios, their results showed that in hazardous driving scenarios that required evasive driving maneuvers, non-immobilized drivers performed significantly better than immobilized drivers. The non-immobilized drivers had 1.7 collisions while the immobilized participants had 3.7 collisions. This is a statistically significant increase with the number of collisions more than doubling in immobilized drivers! Thus, it was shown through this study that sling immobilization of the dominant arm does impede a driver’s ability to effectively perform evasive maneuvers when faced with a driving hazard.

While only sling immobilization of the dominant driving arm was reviewed in this study, it is our opinion that driving with either arm immobilized in a sling is unsafe for you, your passengers, other drivers, and pedestrians. Instead, we encourage you to utilize the help of a friend or family member to get you where you need to go. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact our trained medical staff.

Atanda, A., Chay, E., Hasan, S., Jazrawi, L. M., McGee, A. W., and Zuckerman, J. D. (2015). The effect of shoulder immobilization on driving performance. J Shoulder Elbow Surg, 24(2), 273-279.