What Is Nursemaid’s Elbow?

Nursemaid’s Elbow

Nursemaid’s elbow, also known as “pulled elbow” usually happens in kids from ages 1to 3 years old.  Infants and older kids can experience it, too.

So, what is it and how does it happen?

Your elbow joint consists of three bones. The Humerus (upper arm bone), Radius and Ulna (lower arm bones). Ligaments surround these bones and if there is force on the joint, a ligament may slip over the bone (normally the radius) and pull the bone out of place. Pain will occur and your child may start grabbing his/her elbow or experience pain when moving their arm. This can happen a lot easier than you think with minimal force.

Here are some common reasons why Nursemaid’s elbow may occur:

    1. Jerking a child’s arm. Pulling a toddler along while walking or quickly grabbing his or her hand can jerk the arm, causing the radial head to slip. Remember to be gentle when taking a child by the hand.

    2. 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.

    3. Swinging a toddler by the arms. Any type of swinging by holding the hands or wrists can put stress on the elbow joint and should be avoided.

    4. Breaking a fall with the arm. The natural response to falling is outstretching an arm for protection. The elbow can overextend during this action, resulting in a slip of the radial head.

    5. 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.

The injury happens in younger kids because their ligaments (the elastic-like bands that hold bones together) are loose and bones are not yet fully formed. This makes it easier for some of the bones to slip in and out of place. As kids get older, however, their ligaments tighten, bones enlarge and harden, and the risk of nursemaid’s elbow decreases.

While a child with nursemaid’s elbow has some initial pain in the arm, the injury does not cause any long-term damage. We can gently put the bone back into place, causing symptoms to go away quickly.

For more about this problem or other important information, go to www.kidshealth.org