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Nursemaid's Elbow

Many children squeal with delight when you swing them around or back and forth by the arms. But did you know that this fun activity can lead to one of the most common injuries in young kids?

It is called nursemaid's elbow, and it can be quite painful for your little one.

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Nursemaid's elbow means the elbow has slipped out of its normal place at the joint.

The elbow bone (radius) is connected to the elbow joint(humerus) by elastic bands called ligaments. These ligaments grow stronger and tighter as a child grows older. In little kids and babies, the ligaments are still loose. This makes it easy for the elbow to slip out of place.

Your doctor or nurse may use other terms for nursemaid's elbow, such as:

  • pulled elbow
  • partially dislocated elbow
  • radial head subluxation


Who Gets Nursemaid's Elbow?

Nursemaid's elbow is a common injury among toddlers and preschoolers. It may happen in babies, too.

The injury is not often seen in kids older than 5 or 6. That's because as children grow, their bones harden and the ligaments get tighter and thicker. This helps keep the elbow firmly in place.

Girls are slightly more likely than boys to have nursemaid's elbow.

Causes of Nursemaid's Elbow

Nursemaid's elbow can happen if you tug or pull on a child's lower arm or hand, especially if the arm is twisted. It doesn't take much force for the injury to happen. The most common cause of nursemaid's elbow is a pulling-type injury.

Nursemaid's elbow may happen if you:

  • Catch a child by the hand to stop a fall.
  • Lift a child up by the hands or wrists.
  • Pull a child's arm through a jacket sleeve.
  • Swing a child by the arms or hands.
  • Yank on a child's arm to make him or her walk faster.

Sometimes nursemaid's elbow may happen if:

  • An infant rolls over onto the arm.
  • A child uses the hands to brace himself or herself during a fall.

Symptoms of Nursemaid's Elbow

Nursemaid's elbow can be quite painful. However, the arm or elbow doesn't look hurt, the way a broken bone or sprain might. There is no swelling or bruising.

Symptoms of nursemaid's elbow include:

  • Arm hangs straight down on side of body
  • Child is not using the arm
  • Pain when moving the arm
  • Pain in the elbow, wrist, or shoulder

Treatment of Nursemaid's Elbow

Treatment depends on your child's age and overall health. The doctor will examine the child and make sure the bone is not broken. X-rays are not usually necessary to diagnose this.

Over-the-counter pain medicine, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), may be given. Make sure you ask your health care provider for the correct dose for your child. Never give aspirin to a child under age 12.

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