A pulled elbow is a common mishap in early childhood and one of the most common injuries in children aged one to four years. A pulled elbow results because a child’s ligaments are loose and their bones are not yet fully formed, making it easier for the bones to slip in and out of place. A pulled elbow happens when the lower part of the arm (also known as the radius) slips out of its normal place at the elbow joint.
Causes of Pulled Elbow
A sudden pull or yank of the lower part of the arm can cause a pulled elbow, as it places stress on the elbow outstretching it from its position. When a child uses their arm to try and break their fall, this can cause the arm to overextend and the elbow can slip out. Swinging a child by the arm or jerking a child’s arm while walking along can also cause stress on the elbow head and result in the bone slipping.
Signs and Symptoms
- Your child refuses to use their arm.
- Complains of pain.
- Arm remains in a straight fixed position.
- A pulled elbow does not usually cause swelling or deformity.
In the event of a pulled elbow you may be required to attend your local emergency department. A doctor will assess your child based on the cause of injury and conduct a physical exam. An X-ray is not necessary to diagnose a pulled elbow. A pulled elbow will be manipulated back into place by a nurse or doctor. The arm is taken from a straight position and bent upwards in a swift motion. The doctor will listen for a “pop” sound, indicating the bone is back in place. Whilst this can be painful it only lasts a short time.
Your child will be observed for a short time afterwards and assessed to see that they can use their arm without any pain.
What to expect
- No long term damage will result.
- The longer the elbow has been out of place the more difficult it is to relocate.
- Best way to prevent a pulled elbow is avoid tugging, swinging, or jerking on your child’s hands or arms.
- Some children are more likely to sustain this injury than others.