Fort Worth, Texas,
14:19 PM

What Is Nursemaid’s Elbow?

An emergency physician explains pulled elbow

Nursemaid’s elbow, also known as a pulled elbow, typically occurs in preschool-aged children, often as a result from a child being swung with their arms above their head.

A toddler’s ligaments are not fully developed and may still be loose, allowing for the ligament in the elbow to slip into the joint and become trapped.

Cook Children’s Emergency Department sees an average of 319 nursemaid’s elbows each year, according to Corwin Warmink, M.D., medical director of Emergency Services at Cook Children’s.

Nursemaid’s elbow can be caused by a variety of abrupt actions:

  • Swinging a small child by their arms, hands or wrists

  • Breaking a fall with arms overextended

  • Grabbing/yanking a child’s arms

Nursemaid’s elbow does not cause swelling or deformity. Children experiencing nursemaid’s elbow will typically keep the arm straightened with a slight bend in the elbow.

“When a child has this condition they will hold the arm close to their side and avoid moving it and try to protect it,” Dr. Warmink said. “Oftentimes to parents the arm will appear dead. They often will perceive the pain in the forearm closer to wrist area than the elbow.”

Nursemaid’s elbow causes a similar reaction and pain to a fracture, and it is recommended that a medical professional relocates the elbow.

”If you believe your child has this condition it is better to leave the child in a position of comfort with minimal manipulation of the arm,” Dr. Warmink said. “Fractures can mimic this condition and we have seen multiple parents try to manipulate a child's arm to reduce a nursemaid's when in fact the child has a fracture. This can make the fracture considerably worse and also causes the child a great deal of pain.”

Preschool-aged children should be picked up from the under arms to avoid pulled and dislocated elbows.

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