Three bones come together at the elbow. One bone makes the upper arm and two make the lower arm. One of the lower arm bones may slip out of place at the elbow. This is called a pulled elbow. It is a common elbow injury in young children.
A pulled elbow can be easily treated. It does not lead to long-term problems.
The Elbow Joint
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Ligaments help to keep your bones in place. These ligaments are loose in young children. Bones are also not fully formed in young children. These factors make it easier for the bones to slip out of place.
An elbow pull happens with a sudden jerk, tug, or blow to the elbow. In children, even a small amount of force may cause the injury.
These types of injuries are most common in children 1-6 years of age.
Actions that may increase the risk of dislocation include: Pulling a child up by the handsSwinging a child by their armsJerking a child’s armBreaking a fall with the armRolling over in an awkward way
Children that have had a pulled elbow are more likely to dislocate their elbow again.
Symptoms may include: Pain at elbow right after pulling or trauma to elbowChild refuses to use armArm is kept close to child’s sideChild resists straightening the arm
Your doctor will ask about your child’s symptoms. A physical exam will be done.
The diagnosis will most likely be done during the physical exam. Your doctor may also look for signs of broken bone such as swelling and tenderness.
The doctor will be able to move the bone back in place.
For some children the pain will go away once the bone is back in place. Your child may also be able to easily move their arm within a few minutes.
For other children, it may take a few tries to move the bone back into position. Treatment may also be delayed in younger children with mild pain. In these cases, your child may continue to have discomfort after the bone is moved back into place. To make your child more comfortable, your doctor may recommend: Medications such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen.Sling to rest the elbow for a few daysApplying ice to the elbow
Some dislocations can be prevented. To help reduce your child’s chance of a partial dislocation: Avoid jerking or tugging your child’s armAvoid swinging your child by their arms or wristsLift young children from under their arms
Nursemaid’s elbow. Healthy Children—American Academy of Pediatrics website. Available at:
Updated October 10, 2012. Accessed October 29, 2012.
Nursemaid’s elbow. Boston Children’s Hospital website. Available at:
http://www.childrenshospital.org/az/Site1082/mainpageS1082P0.html. Accessed October 29, 2012.
Nursemaid’s elbow. Kids Health—Nemours Foundation website. Available at:
http://kidshealth.org/parent/medical/bones/nursemaid.html. Accessed October 29, 2012.
Last reviewed September 2016 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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