What is a pulled elbow?

This is a common injury in young children. It usually occurs as a result of a sudden pull on a child’s arm when the elbow is straight.  It commonly happens when swinging a child round by the arms, or when the child stumbles when holding your hand.

What happens?

The radial head is at the end of one of the bones at the elbow. When a pulled elbow occurs, the radial head pops out of place.  This is due to soft and stretchy ligaments around the elbow. Your child has not dislocated their elbow.  Children sometimes complain of pain at the wrist.  A pulled elbow can affect children up to age 5 or 6.

How do you fix a pulled elbow?

A pulled elbow is simple to fix.  The nurse or doctor will hold your child’s elbow and rotate your child’s hand inwards.  A click is usually felt by the nurse or doctor as the bones relocates into the correct position.  Your child may cry momentarily.

We will observe your child to ensure they are happy using it.  When they start to use it normally, you will be allowed home. A sling or plaster cast is not required.

Further information

  • Your child’s arm may be sore over the next couple of days.  We advise that you give paracetamol and/or ibuprofen following the instructions on the bottle, if they are experiencing pain.
  • If your child has pulled their elbow once, they may do it again.  It is important to be careful not to pull or wrench the arm.
  • If your child is not using the arm normally the next day, please return for review.
  • If you have any other concerns please contact your GP, call 111 or return to the Emergency Department.


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