Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Your Child's Health, Our Priority, Always

Nursemaid’s Elbow in Pediatrics

Nursemaid’s elbow, also known as radial head subluxation or pulled elbow, is a common injury seen in young children, typically between the ages of 1 and 4 years old. While it can be distressing for both the child and the caregiver, understanding the causes, symptoms, and treatment options for nursemaid’s elbow can help alleviate concerns and ensure prompt care.


What Causes Nursemaid’s Elbow?

Nursemaid’s elbow occurs when there is a sudden pulling or traction force on the child’s forearm, which causes the radius bone to slip out of its normal position at the elbow joint. Common causes include:

  • Pulling or Lifting: This can happen when a child is pulled or lifted by the hand or wrist, especially if done abruptly or with significant force.
  • Swinging: Swinging a child by their arms, spinning them around, or catching them by the arms as they fall can also lead to nursemaid’s elbow.
  • Rolling Over in Bed: In some cases, nursemaid’s elbow can occur during routine activities such as rolling over in bed or playing.



The most common symptom of nursemaid’s elbow is a sudden onset of pain in the child’s arm, typically around the elbow. Other symptoms may include:

  • Refusal to use the affected arm.
  • Holding the arm close to the body.
  • Limited range of motion in the affected arm, especially bending or straightening the elbow.
  • The child may appear distressed or inconsolable.



Diagnosing nursemaid’s elbow is usually based on the child’s symptoms and a physical examination by a healthcare provider. During the exam, the doctor may gently manipulate the child’s arm to assess pain or discomfort and attempt to relocate the displaced bone back into its proper position.


Treatment Options

Fortunately, nursemaid’s elbow is usually easily treated and rarely leads to long-term complications. Treatment options may include:

  • Reduction: The healthcare provider will perform a simple procedure called reduction to guide the displaced bone back into place. This typically involves gentle manipulation and can often be done quickly in the doctor’s office.
  • Immobilization: After reduction, the child’s arm may be immobilized with a splint or sling to provide support and prevent further injury. However, immobilization is usually not necessary for an extended period.
  • Pain Management: Over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen may be recommended to help alleviate any discomfort associated with nursemaid’s elbow.
  • Activity Modification: Parents and caregivers may be advised to avoid activities that could potentially cause a recurrence of nursemaid’s elbow, such as pulling or lifting the child by the hand or wrist.



While nursemaid’s elbow cannot always be prevented, there are some measures parents and caregivers can take to reduce the risk:

  • Avoid pulling or lifting children with their hands or wrists.
  • Teach children safe ways to play and move their bodies.
  • Be cautious when engaging in activities that involve swinging or lifting children.


A nursemaid’s elbow is a common and usually benign injury in young children that occurs when the radius bone slips out of place at the elbow joint. While it can concern parents and caregivers, prompt diagnosis and treatment typically lead to a quick and full recovery. Remember, if you suspect your child has nursemaid’s elbow, it is essential to seek medical attention for proper evaluation and management.