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Nursemaid's Elbow

What is nursemaid's elbow?

Nursemaid's elbow happens when the radius (one of the bones in the forearm) slips out of place from where it normally attaches to the elbow joint. It is a common condition in children younger than 4 years of age. It is also called pulled elbow, slipped elbow, or toddler elbow. The medical term for nursemaid's elbow is radial head subluxation.

What causes nursemaid's elbow?

A sudden pulling or traction on the hand or forearm causes nursemaid's elbow. This can happen when a parent reaches out and grabs a child about to fall or to walk into the street. This causes the radius to slip out of the ligament holding it into the elbow. It can happen when an infant rolls himself or herself over, from a fall, or from pulling or swinging a young child by the hand.

What are the symptoms of nursemaid's elbow?

The following are the most common symptoms of nursemaid's elbow. However, each child may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • Immediate pain in the injured arm

  • Refusal or inability to move the injured arm

  • Anxiety

The symptoms of nursemaid's elbow may resemble other conditions or medical problems. Always talk with your child's healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

How is nursemaid's elbow diagnosed?

The diagnosis of nursemaid's elbow is made with a physical exam and often an X-ray by your child's healthcare provider.

It is important to call your child's healthcare provider immediately, or promptly take your child to the emergency department, if you suspect an injury.

Treatment for nursemaid's elbow

Specific treatment for nursemaid's elbow will be discussed with you by your child's healthcare provider based on the following:

  • Your child's age, overall health, and medical history

  • The extent of the condition

  • Your child's tolerance for specific medicines, procedures, or therapies

  • Expectations for the course of the condition

  • Your opinion or preference

Treatment may include:

  • Acetaminophen (for pain), as directed by your child's healthcare provider

  • Prompt medical treatment while providing reassurance for your child

The injury can usually be reduced (fixed) by your child's healthcare provider often with ease and occasionally without the need for X-rays (unless other type of injury or fracture is suspected).

Once the elbow has sustained this type of injury, it is more likely to happen again. If it does, call your child's healthcare provider or return to the emergency department for further evaluation and treatment. Most children outgrow the tendency for nursemaid's elbow by the age of 5.

Prevention of nursemaid's elbow

Here are tips for preventing nursemaid's elbow:

  • Avoid pulling or swinging your child by the arms or hands.

  • Avoid lifting your child up by his or her arms or hands.

Talk with your child's healthcare provider for more information.

Date Last Reviewed: 8/1/2016
© 2000-2016 The StayWell Company, LLC. 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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