Picture walking along with your toddler – he stumbles and your first reaction is to pull him up by his arm to prevent any grazed knees. However you may have caused more damage by that simple reaction. Dislocation of the elbow joint is commonly referred to as Pulled Elbow. A baby’s bones, ligaments and joints are not formed properly and when pulling them up by the arm, a partial dislocation of the elbow can occur. The two lower bones of the arm – the radius and ulna are held together with ligaments and the younger the child, the looser the ligaments. When a young child is pulled up by his arm, this loose ligament moves up over the radius causing the radial bone to shift out of place becoming partially dislocated. This commonly occurs in children aged 1 to 4 years of age but can also happen to younger babies.
Whilst this injury most commonly causes injury to the elbow you can also cause neck injuries. Babies initially have weak neck control and big heads compared to the size of their bodies and by pulling him up by the arms, his neck may fall backwards causing injury to the neck muscles. Support baby’s head and neck when picking him up until he is old enough to hold his head steady by himself.
A pulled elbow will hurt with movement and you will notice that your child won’t move his arm but rather let it slump slightly at his side. If you suspect your child has a pulled elbow, then he needs to be taken to a doctor who will manoeuvre it back into place. A pulled elbow will not cause any long term damage if treated quickly. Recovery is fast but your child may need to take some pain medication for a couple of days.
To stop this from happening make sure that you do not pick up your child by the lower arms or wrists. It is best to lift them up by their armpits. Show grandparents or caregivers the correct way to pick up your child. As the child gets older, the ligaments start to tighten and this type of injury rarely occurs after the age of 5 years.
Here are some guidelines for parents and care givers on how to prevent a pulled elbow:
- Never pick a child up by pulling on one arm or wrist.
- Don’t swing a toddler around by holding onto his hands or arms.
- When lifting a child up, grasp them under the arms, never lift them up by pulling or jerking on their arms.