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HealthInfo Canterbury

Pulled elbow

Tuke kume

Parent pulling a child's arm upwards, causing a pulled elbow

A pulled elbow is a common injury in tamariki (children) aged between 1 and 4 years. It usually happens after a sudden pull on their lower arm or wrist, for example when someone lifts them by one arm.

Tamariki Children have weaker ligaments (short bands of strong, flexible tissue that connect joints) than adults. In pulled elbow a circular ligament that wraps around the top of one of the bones in their forearm, the radial bone, stretches and pulls out of place. This causes pain until the ligament goes back into place.

If your tamaiti (child) has a pulled elbow they will usually cry straight away and not use their arm. They will often hang the arm by their side.

Treating a pulled elbow

A doctor or nurse will move the arm of your tamaiti child in a particular way to put the ligament back in place. They can do this quickly. Your tamaiti might be surprised at first, but then the pain should get better, so they will go back to using their elbow as normal within a few minutes.

Your child will not usually need an X-ray to diagnose a pulled elbow. The doctor or nurse will usually watch them for a short time after treatment to make sure they are using their arm without any problems. If they are still in pain or not using their arm, they might need an X-ray to see what's happening.

Caring for a child with a pulled elbow

Once the ligament is back in place the arm of your tamaiti should not be painful. Some tamariki may be a little sore and need some paracetamol. After treatment your child can continue with life as normal. They don't need a sling and you don't need to stop them from playing.

Take your tamaiti back if:

To prevent pulled elbow in the future, try not to pick up your child by one arm. Teach other caregivers to do the same.

If the injury happens again do not try to treat it yourself. Always seek medical attention.

Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed March 2022.

Sources

Page reference: 131964

Review key: HISAA-362960