Sara O'Kelly, P.A.-C.
Orthopedics, Urgent Care
Sometimes all it takes is a little tug — when you're helping toddlers down a step, pulling them back from a dangerous situation, lifting them into a high chair, or playing by swinging them by their arms or hands. The next thing you know, they're holding their arm close to their side and not wanting to use or bend it due to pain. It may be a condition called nursemaid's elbow.
The term "nursemaid's elbow" harks back to the days when a nursemaid or nanny was common. A better name today might be babysitter's elbow.
It's also known as radial head subluxation and happens when the annular ligament in the elbow is displaced by being pulled. Young children's elbows are much more flexible than those of adults. So it's easier for younger elbows to become dislocated, and it can take little force to cause nursemaid's elbow. It's a common injury for children ages 1 to 4, but can happen from birth to age 7.
If you suspect nursemaid's elbow, immediately seek medical attention. A health care professional can treat nursemaid's elbow by gently moving the arm, which quickly relieves discomfort and restores arm movement. Surgery is seldom required unless there's a fracture or the dislocation isn't quickly treated.
Once a child has had nursemaid's elbow, it can happen again. That's why it's important to avoid swinging, tugging or pulling children by the hands or arms. Always lift them by grasping them under their armpits. Dislocated elbows also can happen during play or sports, when breaking a fall or during activities like tumbling.
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