From a Swing to a Sling – Nursemaid’s Elbow Common Among Little Ones

Moving Ahead     Fall 2017

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Most of us have done this while playing with our kids at one time or another. And in most cases, the end result is belly laughs and children yelling, “Again!”

But sometimes – especially in kids younger than 5 – this kind of innocent play can lead to a condition called nursemaid’s elbow. 

Also known as a pulled elbow, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) says the injury happens when a young child is pulled too hard by their hand or wrist.

Examples of when the injury most commonly happens to children include: 

  • after being lifted by one arm
  • by rolling in an unusual way
  • when being helped up a high step by one hand
  • while stopping a fall with their arm
  • while being swung by their arms during play

With this injury, a child’s elbow is dislocated, meaning it slips out of its joint. 

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says a young child’s elbow joint is loose enough to separate just a little when their arm is pulled to its full length. Tissue that is nearby then slides into the open space and gets trapped when the joint tries to go back to its normal position.

When a child gets a pulled elbow, they will complain about their elbow hurting, especially when it’s moved. They will usually try to keep their arm mostly straight and close to their body. And they won’t want anyone to turn the palm of their hand up because it will cause too much pain.

If you think your child might have nursemaid’s elbow, you should take them to visit their doctor. It’s likely an X-ray will be done.

To treat the injury, the doctor will be able to move and twist the elbow back in place. The AAP says that though this might sound easy, it’s definitely not something to try to fix at home. Always leave this treatment to the professionals.

Most children feel immediate relief and are able to move their arm again within a few minutes of their elbow being reset in the right position. Sometimes, doctors will recommend a child wear a sling or even a cast for a few days to a few weeks to make sure the elbow isn’t reinjured. 

An occasional case of nursemaid’s elbow is caused by an accidental fall that couldn’t have been prevented. Most of the time, however, you can protect your children from having a pulled elbow simply by lifting them by grasping their body with both hands under their arms. 

For more information about nursemaid’s elbow, talk with your doctor or visit to find a physician. 

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