Big Kid

A Guide To Recognizing And Treating Nursemaid’s Elbow In Children

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A significant chunk of parenting involves keeping our kids from maiming or injuring themselves on a seemingly daily basis. Because kids apparently lack the ability to recognize danger and when something is capital letters A BAD IDEA. Sure, jumping off the bunk bed onto a spinning chair probably seems like a perfectly reasonable thing to do when you’re six. But parents – we know better! However, there may come a time when the injury your child sustains isn’t exactly … their fault. In fact, there may come a time when you, their loving parent, inadvertently cause an injury. One of these common accidental injuries is called nursemaid’s elbow. It could very well happen to your kiddo, so knowing the signs and how to treat it is information you need in your parenting database.

Nursemaid’s elbow is not as sweet as it sounds! But what is it, exactly?

Toddlers and preschoolers are at particularly high risk for nursemaid’s elbow. The injury occurs when a ligament in the elbow slips out of place. When it does that, it gets caught between the two bones in the elbow joint. Younger kids are particularly susceptible, since the ligaments in their joints are not fully formed yet. The injury does cause pain, but when treated properly, it won’t cause any long-term damage.

What causes nursemaid’s elbow?

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This is definitely one of those freak injuries! It’s most common in kids between the ages of 1-4, which makes sense when you learn what causes it. Nursemaid’s elbow can happen with even a small amount of force, and some seemingly mundane actions can result in a pulled elbow. Pulling a child up by the hands or wrists (as opposed to under the arms), swinging a toddler or small child by the hands, or even jerking your little one’s hand to pull them out of the way of danger can cause the condition. In infants or very young children, it can even be caused by rolling over awkwardly. However, it’s rarely caused by a fall; if your child is exhibiting pain in their elbow following a fall, it’s unlikely to be nursemaid’s elbow.

What are the symptoms of nursemaid’s elbow?

This is a tricky one! Nursemaid’s elbow isn’t physically obvious, because it doesn’t cause any deformity or swelling in the joint or arm. But if your child has a pulled elbow, they will most likely not want to use the arm as it causes some pain and discomfort. They’ll hold it in a straight position, or at their side with the elbow slightly bent.

Because it’s hard to tell exactly how the elbow is injured, it’s important to have your child checked out by a doctor when they exhibit any signs of an elbow injury. This includes the symptoms of nursemaid’s elbow, severe pain, or swelling or deformity of the joint. It could be something less serious, like nursemaid’s elbow, but it could also be a fracture or a really bad bruise, so better safe than sorry.

How is nursemaid’s elbow treated?

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Nursemaid’s elbow is typically diagnosed without having to do any x-rays (although an x-ray may be ordered if a fracture is suspected). The doctor will ask some questions about how the injury occurred. If there is no swelling or signs of a more serious injury, the doctor will perform what’s called a reduction. With your child sitting in your lap, the doctor will take the injured arm from a straight position, then gently bend it upwards. Or, they will straighten the arm while turning the palm to the floor. One reduction usually does the trick, although some cases may require more treatment. Your child will likely feel some pain during the reduction, but their arm will feel better almost immediately once the ligament is returned to its place, and they will have full use of their arm within 5-10 minutes.

If your child is fearful to use their arm following a reduction, the doctor may have them wear a sling for a few days. You can use Tylenol or Motrin for pain relief. But once the elbow has been fixed, most kids will be back to normal within a couple of days.

Nursemaid’s elbow is a common childhood injury. Knowing what causes it, how to prevent it, and how to treat it is important information for all parents.