Definition

What is nursemaid’s elbow?

Nursemaid’s elbow is a dislocation of a bone in the elbow called the radius. Dislocation means the bone slips out of its normal position.

The injury is also called:

  • Pulled elbow
  • Radial head subluxation
  • Radial head dislocation

How common is nursemaid’s elbow?

Nursemaid’s elbow is a common injury among toddlers and preschoolers, especially young children under age 5. The injury is not often seen in kids older than 5 or 6. That’s because as children grow, their bones harden and the ligaments get tighter and thicker. This helps keep the elbow firmly in place. Girls are slightly more likely than boys to have nursemaid’s elbow.

In some cases, the injury can occur in older children or adults, usually from a fracture of the forearm.

Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of nursemaid’s elbow?

The main symptom of a pulled elbow is pain when the child moves the arm. In fact, nursemaid’s elbow can be quite painful. There is, though, no swelling, bruising, or other sign of a serious injury.

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

Sometimes the elbow will slip back into place on its own. DO NOT try to straighten the arm or change its position. It is best for the child to see a health care provider.

Severe pain, even without swelling, can be the sign of a broken bone. Call your doctor if your child injures her elbow.

If your child has any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your child’s situation.

Causes

What causes nursemaid’s elbow?

Nursemaid’s elbow can happen if you tug or pull on a child’s lower arm or hand, especially if the arm is twisted. It doesn’t take much force for the injury to happen. The most common cause of nursemaid’s elbow is a pulling-type injury.

Nursemaid’s elbow may happen if you:

  • Catch a child by the hand to stop a fall
  • Lift a child up by the hands or wrists
  • Pull a child’s arm through a jacket sleeve
  • Swing a child by the arms or hands
  • Yank on a child’s arm to make him or her walk faster

Sometimes nursemaid’s elbow may happen if:

  • An infant rolls over onto the arm
  • A child uses the hands to brace himself or herself during a fall

Risk factors

What increases my risk for nursemaid’s elbow?

Kids who have had nursemaid’s elbow are more likely to get it again in the future.

Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is nursemaid’s elbow diagnosed?

Treatment depends on your child’s age and overall health. The doctor will examine the child and make sure the bone is not broken. X-rays are not usually necessary to diagnose this.

How is nursemaid’s elbow treated?

Over-the-counter pain medicine, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), may be given. Make sure you ask your health care provider for the correct dose for your child. Never give aspirin to a child under age 12.

The doctor will use a method called a “reduction maneuver” to put the elbow back into the correct position. This method is also called a “reduction.”

In this method, the doctor holds the child’s wrist and elbow. The doctor then carefully moves the arm in a specific way until the elbow pops back into place. You may hear a “click” when this happens.

A reduction maneuver only takes a few seconds. It may be done in the doctor’s office.

The procedure can be briefly painful. The child will probably cry for a few seconds.

Most kids can use the arm without pain within 10 to 15 minutes. But some kids may be afraid to use the arm because they remember that it hurt before. If this happens, your doctor may recommend pain medicine and then observation for the next hour to make sure the child moves the arm.

X-rays are usually not needed. X-ray results are normal in someone with nursemaid’s elbow. But X-rays may be taken if the child does not move the arm after a reduction.

Sometimes, the first attempt at reduction does not work. It may take two or more times to put the elbow back into the correct position. Surgery is rarely needed.

Nursemaid’s elbow may sometimes be the result of child abuse. A child abuse investigation may be done if there are other signs that the child is being abused or if it occurs in an older child.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage nursemaid’s elbow?

The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with nursemaid’s elbow:

  • Do not lift a child up by the arms or hands. Lift the child under the arms instead.
  • Do not tug or jerk a child’s hand or arm.
  • Never swing a child by the hands or arms.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Sources

Review Date: October 21, 2017 | Last Modified: October 21, 2017

Want to live your best life?
Get the Hello Doktor Daily newsletter for health tips, wellness updates and more.