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Pulled Elbows: What it is, and why you should know about them

Updated: Aug 5, 2019

A pulled what!? You may ask.

It is quite simply where a bone in the elbow has slipped out of place, a minor dislocation. But what many parents and carers don't know is that it is a very common injury in children aged 1 to 4 years.

Think of those wonderful days where we walked hand in hand with our parents either side, being swung high up into the sky between them. Or when we lift our little one up by their wrists or give them that innocent dizzy whizzy - I’m not saying don’t do it - just be aware!

Even when siblings are playing with each other and one pulls or yanks the other by the arm. Or sometimes, just an unsuspecting fall.

Well in some children, this is enough to cause a dislocation of the elbow. Countless cases come through the emergency doors each week, with parents unaware of what has

happened. Just like with many childhood fractures, they can go unnoticed for a while. So don't feel bad if this has happened to you, you are not alone!

If our child is:

  • Favouring one arm. They will not be able to use the arm. It is often seen just dangling by the side of a toddler, with their hand facing forward

  • Showing pain and distress immediately when the injury occurs, or when the elbow or forearm is moved.

Interestingly you won't see:

  • Swelling, bruising, or deformity of the arm

  • Pain when you touch it

Luckily the treatment is quick and simple, with a manoeuvre conducted by qualified medical staff to pop the elbow back in. And the sooner it is picked up, the easier it pops back in. Sometimes an x-ray is required if they are unsure whether it is a pulled elbow or not.

Although the procedure is a little painful, within 30 minutes the child is usually moving their arm again, especially with the temptation of an exciting toy!

So if you suspect your child has a pulled elbow:

  • Give them some pain relief

  • Apply an icepack wrapped in a cloth

  • And attend your nearest Paediatric emergency department or local GP.

  • And remember...it’s best not to pick your children up by their wrists or forearms, and if it has happened once it may happen again!

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