Medical Definition of Nursemaid's elbow

  • Medical Author:
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Nursemaid's elbow: Partial dislocation of the elbow. The radius (a bone in the forearm) slips out of the ligament that holds it in place at the elbow. This is common in children under 4 years of age. It may be due to an adult lifting or swinging the child by one hand and can also occur when an infant rolls over or falls. The child begins to cry immediately and holds the arm slightly bent at the elbow with the forearm against the abdomen. Treatment is for the physician to reduce the dislocation. Once a child has had nursemaid's elbow, it may recur.

The term nursemaid's elbow harks back to the days when a nursemaid (nanny) was not a rarity. The condition today should probably be called babysitter's elbow. It is also known as dislocation of the radial head, elbow dislocation, pulled elbow, radial head subluxation, slipped elbow, or toddler elbow.

Reviewed on 12/21/2018

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