What Is Nursemaid’s Elbow?

Nursemaid’s elbow is the name given to a common injury that occurs among children under five years old. It happens when adults swing kids around by the arms or pull on them in a manner that causes partial dislocation of the small radial bone in the child’s elbow joint.

Also known as a pulled elbow, this injury can be quite painful for a little child but can be easily fixed by a doctor.

Why is it Called Nursemaid’s Elbow?

Why is it Called Nursemaid’s Elbow

The reason the injury is called a nursemaid’s elbow is because it comes from a time when nannies or nursemaids were the ones who looked after kids and were often said to be the cause of the child getting injured.

Medically known as radial head subluxation, it doesn’t mean that the child’s elbow has been completely dislocated. Instead, it signifies the movement of the radial bone out of its socket and the bone getting caught between the ligaments.

Is Nursemaid’s Elbow an Emergency?

Yes, a nursemaid’s elbow is indeed an emergency, and one should seek medical care for it right away. Since the kids who get affected by it are quite young and may not be too verbal regarding the pain, it’s important to take note of the signs.

The minute you see them being in pain while using their arm or witness them not being able to use their arm properly, take them to see a doctor. The doctor will first examine the kid to ensure there aren’t any fractures because trying to treat a fractured elbow can only lead to more damage.

Leaving the nursemaid’s elbow undetected is not safe at all. Even though it can often correct itself, one shouldn’t rely on that possibility. This is because even if it does get corrected naturally, it won’t happen properly.

A child suffering from a nursemaid’s elbow needs to be thoroughly examined to ensure the elbow has healed effectively. The longer you wait, the more difficult it can be to fix the injury.

As time goes by, the ligaments get stretched by the misplaced radial bone, thereby making it tougher for them to be snapped back into their original position. If the injury isn’t fixed on time, the patient could get permanently disabled.

How is Nursemaid’s Elbow Diagnosed?

How is Nursemaid’s Elbow Diagnosed

In order to diagnose a nursemaid’s elbow, the doctor will conduct a physical examination and ask the patient to describe the events that led to the injury. The tests help in determining the patient’s range of motion while also checking for tenderness in the affected area.

Although imaging tests aren’t required to diagnose the nursemaid’s elbow, the doctor could recommend getting an X-ray done to check if there has been a fracture or any other damage.

Symptoms of Nursemaid’s Elbow

Here are some symptoms you may notice in the child if they have a nursemaid elbow:

  • They complain that their elbow is in pain
  • They experience pain when the injured arm moves or is touched by someone else
  • If your child is keeping their arm in either a straight position or slight bend in the elbow
  • Unable to properly use the arm

There are no physical signs of a nursemaid elbow, this is why it is important to listen to your child when they are complaining of pain.

Can Nursemaid’s Elbow be Treated at Home?

Nursemaid’s elbow cannot be treated at home. Parents can give their child over-the-counter pain medicines or apply ice packs to handle the situation initially, but a doctor must be consulted so as to put the dislocated joint back in its place.

Treatment Of Nursemaid’s Elbow

Treatment Of Nursemaid's Elbow

Because this is a pulled ligament, you need to take your child to the doctor as soon as possible. Once you do, they will probably treat it through the process of reduction.

This is the process of moving the dislocated bone back in place. This is not anything invasive or requires surgery. It will simply take a few seconds as the doctor will use his hands to pop the bone back into place. There may be a slight click sound.

During this process, your child will experience pain. However, it will be only for a few seconds and once the bone is back in its place the pain will be gone. They will also be able to use their arm ten minutes after the reduction process.

However, sometimes children need more than one treatment for their elbow to heal. Of course, this will be told to you by your doctor once you seek medical care.

To prevent it from happening again, you mustn’t suddenly jerk or pull your child’s arm. This is because they need to be treated gently as they are still in their developing phase.

How Long Does it Take to Recover from Nursemaid’s Elbow?

Recovery from nursemaid’s elbow doesn’t take long. Once the patient’s elbow is reduced, they might experience some mild pain for the next few seconds, after which they will immediately feel fine.

How to Prevent Nursemaid’s Elbow

Here are some ways to prevent nursemaid’s elbow:

  • Don’t jerk or forcefully pull your child by their hand or arm.
  • Don’t swing them around by the arms or hands just for fun.
  • Be careful with your toddler when they’re climbing inside a car or while helping them put their jackets on.
  • Don’t use physical cues to call your child or get their attention. Use verbal ones instead.


1. Who is commonly affected by the nursemaid’s elbow?

Little kids, such as preschoolers and toddlers, are the ones affected by nursemaid’s elbow.

2. How to diagnose a nursemaid’s elbow?

A physical examination is required to diagnose the nursemaid’s elbow, and X-rays could be involved as well to look for any possible fractures.

3. Is the nursemaid’s elbow an emergency situation?

Yes, a nursemaid’s elbow is an emergency situation and should be provided immediate medical care.

4. Can a nursemaid’s elbow be treated at home?

No, the nursemaid’s elbow can’t be treated at home. Ice packs and certain pain medicines can help deal with the situation for a while, but only a doctor can correct the dislocated joint.


When kids are still young, and in the initial stages of growth, their ligaments and joints are still quite loose, which is why it’s easy for the radial bone to be pulled out of place. A child can suffer from a nursemaid’s elbow more than once.

Therefore, parents, guardians, or caregivers should be careful about not swinging, tugging, or pulling a child by their hands or arms. Make sure to always pick them up from under their armpits instead.

John Furst

JOHN FURST is an experienced emergency medical technician and qualified first aid and CPR instructor. John is passionate about first aid and believes everyone should have the skills and confidence to take action in an emergency situation.

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1 Response

  1. Munangwa says:

    If the child fall with arm you can’t stretch too much but you can put ice blocks

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