Most commonly seen in children younger than five, nursemaid's elbow occurs when bones in the forearm become partially dislocated from one another due to injury or pulling. It can happen quite easily and most often does while a parent or caregiver is holding the hand of a child. If the child slips, invariably the adult will pull up on the child's arm to keep him or her from falling. Hence the dislocation.
Heather Scott of Massachusetts, the mother of a three-year-old daughter, shares, "Our daughter has been treated for nursemaid's elbow. While walking with a preschool teacher, she slipped on a curb and the teacher pulled her arm to keep her from falling into the street," she says. "The jerking motion caused the injury. We took her to the ER, and the attending doctor just pressed on the inside of her elbow with one hand while twisting her arm with the other. It didn't appear to hurt at all and was fixed immediately."
Symptoms: Your child may refuse to use his arm, keep it slightly bent and close to the body, or experience pain with or without swelling. Little ones may seem to have a floppy hand, wrist, or entire arm, and be unable to move it comfortably.
When to Call the Doctor: Dr. Seema Csukas, MD, director of Community Health Development and Advocacy with Children's Healthcare in Atlanta, says you should call your child's doctor right away.
Treatment: "The doctor may be able to fix the problem in the office and have the child back to normal," says Dr. Csukas. "Sometimes, an X-ray may be needed if there is no improvement. Acetaminophen or ibuprofen may be given for pain."
Dr. Csukas also suggests following up with the doctor if the child is not better in 24 hours.
Prevention: Kids who have had nursemaid's elbow once are at a higher risk for having it again. Do not lift a child by the arms—instead always lift your child from under the arms.