Nursemaid’s elbow is when the radius (forearm bone) slips out of place from where it attaches in the elbow. The medical name for nursemaid’s elbow is radial head subluxation. Other terms for radial head subluxation are a dislocated elbow, slipped elbow or “toddler’s elbow.” This condition is most common in children between age 1-4, and rarely seen in children older than 6 years old.

Nursemaid’s elbow is temporary and leaves no permanent damage. Once a child sustains this type of injury, it is more likely to occur again.

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What are the signs and symptoms of nursemaid’s elbow?

  • Immediate pain in the injured arm
  • Refusal to use the affected limb
  • Pain in the affected elbow, along with pain in the wrist and/or shoulder
  • Anxiety (due to sudden pain)

What causes nursemaid’s elbow?

  • Lifting or swinging a child by the hand
  • Pulling a child’s arm through a jacket sleeve
  • Catching a child by the hand to prevent a fall
  • Infants rolling themselves over

Please note that these are just a few examples. Nursemaid’s elbow can be caused by any sudden pulling on a child’s arm.

How is nursemaid’s elbow diagnosed?

  • Physical exam
  • Imaging when necessary
    • X-rays
    • Ultrasound

If you suspect your child has an injury such as a nursemaid’s elbow, call their doctor immediately or take them to the emergency department.

How is nursemaid’s elbow treated?

Treatment depends on the extent of your child’s injury. There are several non-surgical options to treat nursemaid’s elbow:

  • Pain-relief medication (e.g., acetaminophen)
  • Reassurance for the child
  • Gently moving bones back into normal position

Doctors at Connecticut Children’s can determine the right plan to treat your child’s injury.