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Nursemaids Elbow

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Other Names

  • Subluxation of the annular ligament
  • Subluxation of the radial head
  • Pulled Elbow
  • Radial Head Subluxation




  • General
    • Common
    • Most often ages 1 to 4 with average age 28 months (need citation)


Illustration of Nursemaid's Elbow[1]
  • General
    • Sudden traction at the hand or wrist leading to pronated forearm and extended elbow
    • Can also occur after a minor fall[2]
    • Reported in infants who roll over on their arm, trapping under body while sleeping[3]


  • The annular ligament becomes interposed into Radiocapitallar Joint, between the radial head and Capitellum
  • In older children (i.e. 5+), thickened, stronger distal attachment of annular ligament prevents subluxation


Risk Factors

  • Age (1-4)

Differential Diagnosis

Clinical Features

  • History
    • Mechanism will generally involve a traction force on the affected extremity
    • The parent may report a click during the episode
    • The child will refuse to move arm, holds elbow in flexion and pronation
  • Physical: Physical Exam Elbow
    • Pain, tenderness to lateral elbow
    • Flexion and extension intact
    • Pain when supinating forearm
  • Special Tests



  • Primary a clinical diagnosis, helpful to exclude other etiologies
    • Imaging is not required if the story fits the classic presentation
  • Standard Radiographs Elbow
    • Typically normal when obtained
    • May demonstrate radiocapitellar line slightly lateral to center of capitellum
    • Consider imaging if significant MOI, ecchymosis, swelling, age > 5, difficult reduction


  • May be used to help confirm the diagnosis (need citation)


  • N/A



  • Indications
    • First line in virtually all cases
    • The majority of cases are managed nonoperatively
  • Nursemaids Elbow Reduction
    • Hyperpronation technique favored over Supination & Flexion


  • Indication
    • Chronic, symptomatic subluxations that will not maintain stable reduction
  • Technique
    • Open Reduction

Rehab and Return to Play


  • Does not apply due to age

Return to Play

  • Does not apply due to age

Complications & Prognosis


  • Prognosis is excellent


  • Recurrence
    • Rarely, recurrent subluxations
    • However one study estimates rate ranges between 27% and 39% (need citation)

See Also



  1. Image courtesy of www.childrenshospital.org/, "Nursemaid's Elbow"
  2. Macias CG, Wiebe R, Bothner J. History and radiographic findings associated with clinically suspected radial head subluxations. Pediatr Emerg Care 2000; 16(1):22-25.
  3. Rudloe TF, Schutzman S, Lee LK, Kimia AA. No longer a "nursemaid's" elbow: mechanisms, caregivers, and prevention. Pediatr Emerg Care 2012; 28(8):771-774.
Created by:
John Kiel on 18 June 2019 01:13:45
Last edited:
28 November 2022 00:48:49