Those joyous peals of laughter from children being swung around or back and forth by their arms can turn to tears if they suffer a common injury known as nursemaid’s elbow. As quaint as it may sound, nursemaid’s elbow it can be quite painful for little ones.
The condition, sometimes referred to as a pulled elbow, is usually caused by swinging a toddler by the arms, jerking an arm, pulling a child up by the hands or when a child rolls over awkwardly. The medical term for it is radial head subluxation, and it refers to when the elbow slips out of its usual place at the joint.
The injury, which is common among children ages 1-4, takes its name from a time when nursemaids cared for children. A study that examined medical records from 2005-2012 found the average age that children presented at the emergency room with the injury was about 29 months, and girls were more likely to suffer it than boys. Dr. Carrie Wood a resident family medicine physician at Tidelands Health Family Medicine at Holmestown Road, says young children tend to have looser ligaments that make them prone to the injury.
“After about five years old, the ligaments become thicker and stronger, which helps keep the elbow firmly in place,” she says.
In addition to pain, there are other signs to look for to help determine if your children might have nursemaid’s elbow.
“Sometimes you will hear a click,” says Dr. Wood. “The child will usually cradle their arm and refuse to use it.”
Dr. Wood advises parents to contact a child’s family medicine physician or other qualified health care provider if there’s any concern a child may have suffered nursemaid’s elbow.
A physician can typically diagnose the condition through a physical exam. An X-ray is not usually required, although one may be completed to rule out fractures or broken bones.
The condition can typically be corrected during the visit using either of two gentle maneuvers, Dr. Wood says. The arm will usually be fully functional within 10-15 minutes.
Nursemaid’s elbow does not cause long-term damage, but once a child has had nursemaid’s elbow there is a greater likelihood he or she could suffer from a re-occurrence, Dr. Wood notes.
Even though it may be fun, Dr. Wood suggests parents avoid swinging children by their arms or otherwise pulling or jerking on their arm or hands. She encourages caregivers to lift children from under their arms rather than by pulling on their arms or hands.