What You Need to Know About Treating and Preventing Nursemaid’s Elbow

Injuries among children are common from sports, rough play and accidents. But it is less often that you hear about injuries arising from keeping children out of harm’s way or from innocent playing. Enter: Nursemaid’s Elbow. In this article we will outline what Nursemaid’s Elbow is, how it happens and how it is treated.

What is Nursemaid’s Elbow?

The name for this elbow condition stems from days of old, when “nursemaids” were responsible for looking after the children and were held responsible for this injury. Essentially, Nursemaid’s Elbow is a partial dislocation of the elbow, caused when a child is pulled by the wrist for low forearm. This type of dislocation occurs from a pulling action rather than a push or a fall. It typically takes place when someone grabs a child’s wrist or hand and pulls on the extended arm abruptly; think grabbing your child’s wrist to pull them away from dangerous traffic. The injury can also happen when holding your child’s hands and swinging them by the arms, a game all children like to play. 

Toddlers and young children are always growing and the bones and ligaments in young bodies are not fully developed. For little ones, their joints are still fairly loose, making it easy to pull the joint out of place. Due to the normal growth and development that comes with aging, Nursemaid’s Elbow injuries do not occur in older children and are most commonly seen in kids under the age of 6.


Depending on the age of your child, it’ll be easier for them to express the symptoms they’re having as visible signs like swelling and discoloration are not common. It is important to keep a close eye on your child if they experiencing or if you are witnessing any of the following:

  • Keeping one arm still, generally at their side
  • Refusing to use an arm
  • Signs of pain when an arm is touched or moved
  • Unable to or refusal to rotate the hand on the affected arm


Nursemaid’s Elbow is easily diagnosed by a physician based on a physical examination and description of how the injury occurred. Sometimes the doctor will also take x-rays to ensure that none of the bones are broken. As long as there is no fracture, the specialist can pop the elbow back into place during your office visit. Once the elbow is set, your child will likely feel much better and should regain full use of the arm within an hour. Most pain or discomfort that arises occurs during the initial resetting. If pain lingers, your doctor may recommend a sling and over the counter pain medication.

Though your child will soon grow out of the condition, it is possible for them to get Nursemaid’s Elbow more than once before their joints are fully developed. Avoid pulling, swinging or picking up your child by the hands and wrist to reduce the chances of re-injury.




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