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The Story of Nursemaid’s Elbow: What Is That?

Nursemaid’s Elbow. Are you familiar with that term? Neither was I, but I quickly became familiar with it. Let me start at the beginning.

We were leaving the mall with my husband behind me pushing the stroller and me walking with our son holding his hand. He was walking just fine until we hit the door to leave. We get to the second door and he drops to his knees and refuses to walk anymore and wants to be picked up. We are trying to get him to walk more and rely less on us picking him up…after all, he is two and getting heavier by the day, so it saves Mom and Dad’s arms if he walks more.

So there I am holding my toddler’s arm while he is on the floor refusing to get up and walk. Meanwhile, my husband is at my heels with the stroller and people are behind him. So to quickly move out of the way, I simply pull him up while holding his hand and move him forward. Well, instantly he started a distress cry and this was not in protest. He pulled his hand down out of my hand and started holding it at the elbow. Instantly, I revert back to an article I read where you can break a toddler’s wrist by pulling too hard on their arm and I’m pretty sure my face went paper white. What did I just do?! I couldn’t have pulled that hard when lifting him, could I have?!

I immediately pick him up and take him to the car. We put him in his seat, and any movement of the arm he didn’t like. He calms down a bit on the ride home, until it’s time to take off his jacket. That was the worst distress cry I’ve heard from him. But we weren’t sure what was really wrong with his arm. Was it his wrist, elbow, or shoulder? Of course I’m thinking I broke something…Mom of the year award right here.

Then we try to toss him his basketball and he has no interest and refuses to move his arm to catch it. At that moment, I knew for sure something was wrong because his basketball, soccer ball, etc. are his favorite toys. It was time to take him to urgent care. We get there and they ask what happened. After my explanation, they instantly said, “Oh, nursemaid’s elbow…very common.” I’m thinking, nurse…what? Common? Is that supposed to make me feel better? As I’m on the verge of tears, the nurse goes on to say that there’s a dislocation in his elbow and it happens often with the motion I made with his arm. She looks at me and says don’t beat yourself up about it, everything will be okay. 

Of course I appreciated her words and thanked her…though that didn’t lift the guilt I had…at all. They give him an ice pack and some Motrin as we waited for the doctor and reassured me that everything would be okay. The doctor came in and explained that there are two main muscles in our forearm and they lay parallel to each other when our arms are flat, but they cross when our arms are in other positions, which weakens them. So she did some quick maneuver by holding his hand and bending his arm from the elbow up, around, and up again. Boom. Fixed.

After about a minute, he started moving his arm again and acted like nothing ever happened. There was definite relief for me knowing I at least didn’t break my child’s arm, but there was certainly still guilt for unintentionally causing him pain. It was a long night, but the end result was a good one. 

My lesson in all of that is kids are certainly resilient, but take caution in pulling them up by their wrists. Have any of you been through something similar?

4 Responses to The Story of Nursemaid’s Elbow: What Is That?

  1. Suzanne Hines April 18, 2017 at 9:08 pm #

    Wow I have heard of this, but didn’t know what it actually was. I’m surprised it hasn’t happened to me as I have been in so many similar situations! Now I will know what to do if this does happen…thanks for sharing!

    • Teri April 18, 2017 at 9:29 pm #

      I feel like I yell at everyone who picks him up by his wrists. Lol. #overprotection #momistraumatized

  2. Emily April 23, 2017 at 6:41 pm #

    This happened to my niece (twice) and once to one of my sons. Luckily my cousin is a pediatric ER nurse and he sent a video the first time (and the second) and we treated it at home. The last time he was actually with us and fixed it in a snap!

    • Teri April 23, 2017 at 9:48 pm #

      Emily, thank you for sharing. It’s crazy how simple the fix is for such a painful injury!