What is a pulled elbow?
A pulled elbow (sometimes called ‘nursemaid’s elbow’) is a common injury in children under the age of five. The injury occurs because in this age group the bones are still developing. One of the bones called the radius slips out of the ligament that holds it in place.
An x-ray is not needed to diagnose a pulled elbow.
Why did this happen?
A pulled elbow is usually, but not always, the result of an accidental pull on the arm, for example:
- Pulling on their hands to lift them up
- Breaking a fall
- Swinging a toddler
- Pulling the arm to stop them running away
How will it be fixed?
A pulled elbow is a temporary injury and is easily fixed with a simple manoeuvre which the doctor or nurse practitioner will be able to do for your child. Most children will use their arm normally straight after it is fixed, but it can sometimes take a bit longer for your child to feel ready to move their arm.
How can we stop this happening again?
It is best to avoid swinging games, pulling or lifting your child up by the hand; this may cause a pulled elbow again. By the time your child is 6 or 7 years old it is unlikely to happen, as the bone will then be fully developed.
Is there anything else we can do?
Giving your child paracetamol and ibuprofen will help relieve any residual pain or discomfort they may have. You can also encourage your child to play and use the arm that was injured. If over the next few days your child stops using their arm, you are worried or think this has happened again, then please return to Children’s Emergency Department.
Our aim is to provide information that will help you understand your child’s injury and enable the appropriate after-care. There are lots of useful injury leaflets to download at the Royal Alexandra website.
NHS 111 – 24hr advice line
Brighton Walk-In Centre 0333 321 0946
Practice Plus GP 0300 130 3333
7 days a week 8:00 am to 8:00 pm
The information in this leaflet is for guidance purposes only and is in no way intended
to replace professional clinical advice by a qualified practitioner.