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Parents swinging child by arms

Why is it Dangerous to Swing My Child by the Arms?

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You’ve probably seen it before – or maybe even done it yourself. Two parents are walking with their child in between them, and as the child gleefully cheers, “Swing me!”, they hoist the child up by his or her arms and swing the child back and forth. While it might seem innocent enough, this, and other situations where the child is lifted by his or her arms and wrists, could cause a common condition known as nursemaid’s elbow.

What is nursemaid’s elbow?

Nursemaid’s elbow, or pulled elbow, occurs when one of the bones (radius) of a child’s forearm is subluxed (partially dislocated) at the elbow joint due to the ligaments surrounding the elbow slipping. This is more common in children (specifically under 4 years old) than adults because children have looser ligaments and their bones and joints haven’t fully developed.

Common signs of nursemaid’s elbow include:

  • Pain
  • Crying
  • Holding the injured elbow
  • Refusing to use the injured arm
  • No obvious swelling or deformity

It is important to remember the nursemaid’s elbow is not the same as a broken arm. Unlike a broken arm, most nursemaid’s elbows do not occur from falls. The two injuries also have different treatments, so talk to your child’s doctor if you think the injury could be more severe.

How is nursemaid’s elbow treated?

In some cases, the child’s bone will naturally move back into place. Even so, it is important to have your child checked out by the doctor to make sure the condition is completely healed and prevent further injury.

If the injury is not resolved by itself, your child’s doctor will need to perform a simple maneuver to move the elbow back into place.

How do I avoid this?

Fortunately, this is a pretty easy injury to avoid … but it falls on the parent or caretaker. If your child needs to be picked up, there are many safer options, such as under the armpits. No matter how badly your child wants you to swing them, just say “no” and leave the swinging to the jungle gym.

For more information about our pediatric orthopedic services, click here.

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