What is nursemaid’s elbow?
Nursemaid’s elbow is a common childhood condition where the elbow has slipped out of its normal place at the joint. This condition is also known as dislocated elbow.
The elbow bone (radius) and the elbow joint (humerus) is connected by elastic bands called ligaments. These ligaments grow stronger and tighter as a child grows older. In little kids and babies, the ligaments are still loose. This makes it easy for the elbow to slip out of place.
A child with nursemaid’s elbow can experience pain in the arm, but the injury does not cause long-term damage. At the doctor’s office or in the emergency room, a medical professional can slip the ligament back into the right place (usually without the need for any pain medicines), ending the problem quickly.
How common is nursemaid’s elbow?
This health condition is extremely common among toddlers and preschoolers. It usually happens in kids 1 to 4 years old because their ligaments are loose and their bones are not yet fully formed. This makes it easier for some bones to slip in and out of place. As the child gets older, their ligaments tighten and become thicker, bones enlarge and harden, and the risk of nursemaid’s elbow decreases.
What are the symptoms of nursemaid’s elbow?
The common symptoms of nursemaid’s elbow are:
- Extreme pain.
- Obvious distortion of the joint.
- Toddlers with nursemaid’s elbow might experience pain only when the affected elbow is moved. A child often avoids using the arm and holds it slightly flexed next to the body.
- Sometimes, the elbow is only partially dislocated. Partial dislocation can cause bruising and pain where the ligaments were stretched or torn.
- There’s no swelling or deformity. A child with nursemaid’s elbow probably won’t look injured because the injury does not cause the arm to have an obvious deformity or swelling at the elbow.
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?
If you have 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 situation.
What causes nursemaid’s elbow?
In adults, the most common causes of a dislocated elbow include:
- Falls. Falling onto an outstretched hand can make the upper arm bone out of alignment within the elbow joint.
- Motor vehicle accidents. The same type of impact can occur when passengers in motor vehicle accidents reach forward to brace themselves before a collision.
In children or teenagers, falling onto an outstretched hand is also a common cause of a dislocated elbow.
In toddlers, the injury often occurs when an extra pulling motion is applied to an outstretched arm. The causes of such injuries include:
- Improper lifting. Trying to lift or swing a young child by the arms can cause dislocated elbows.
- Sudden pulling. Having the child suddenly step off a curb or stair step as you’re holding his or her hand can pull the elbow out of alignment.
What increases the risk for nursemaid’s elbow?
There are many risk factors for nursemaid’s elbow, such as:
- Pulling a child up by the hands. Pulling on hands or forearms can put stress on the elbows. Never pick up a toddler or infant by the hands or wrists. Lifting under the armpits is the safest way to lift a child.
- Swinging a toddler by the arms. Avoid any type of swinging that involves holding the hands or wrists can put stress on the elbow joint.
- Jerking a child’s arm. Pulling a toddler along while walking or quickly grabbing his or her hand can jerk the arm, causing the annular ligament to slip.
- Breaking a fall with the arm. The natural response to falling is outstretching an arm for protection. The elbow can overextend during this action, finally a slip of the annular ligament will occur.
- Rolling over in an awkward way. Sometimes rolling over in a crib, bed, or on the floor can cause nursemaid’s elbow in infants and very young children.
- Age. Young children’s elbows are much more flexible than those of adults. So it’s easier for younger elbows to become dislocated.
- Heredity. Some people are born with elbow ligaments that are looser than those of most people.
- Sports participation. Many elbow dislocations are sports-related. Sports that require weight bearing with the arms, such as gymnastics floor exercise, are especially risky for elbow dislocations.
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?
Your doctor will carefully examine the injured joint and check if the arm or hand is cold or numb, which would indicate a pinched artery or nerve. Your child probably will need an X-ray to check for fracture in the bones that make up the elbow joint.
How is nursemaid’s elbow treated?
This is a common condition which can caused by normal accident, so the it also can be treated easily.
Medications. Before the reduction you or your child may be given medications to relieve pain and relax muscles.
Therapy. After the joint’s bones are back in their normal alignment, you or your child might need to wear a splint or sling for a few weeks. You might also need to do physical therapy exercises to improve the joint’s range of motion and strength.
Surgery. You might need surgery if:
- Any of the dislocated bones have also been broken
- Torn ligaments need to be reattached
- Damaged nerves or blood vessels need repair
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.
Nursemaid's Elbow. http://www.webmd.com/children/nursemaid-elbow#3. Accessed Mar 12, 2017.
Nursemaid's Elbow. http://kidshealth.org/en/parents/nursemaid.html#. Accessed Mar 12, 2017.
Dislocated elbow. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/dislocated-elbow/basics/prevention/con-20034622. Accessed Mar 12, 2017.
Review Date: March 12, 2017 | Last Modified: September 12, 2019