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Jimmy and his nursemaid are walking down the street hand in hand. He suddenly stops short while she keeps walking, and his arm gets yanked. He starts crying, and the horrified nurse notices the arm hanging limply by his side. “Broken bone!” says the nurse. “Nursemaid’s elbow,” says the doctor, as he magically pops Jimmy’s elbow back into place with a single twist of the forearm.
This is a textbook case of nursemaid’s elbow, a condition that occurs in children under five in which the elbow tendon becomes slightly dislocated. This mild injury can happen when someone pulls Jimmy’s arm or plays roughly with him. After a brief period of crying, Jimmy won’t be in pain, as long as he doesn’t move his joint; he’ll just walk around with his arm hanging by his side. There is usually no swelling or discoloration. Your doctor can perform a simple maneuver—flexing the forearm while turning the hand toward the body—and the elbow will generally pop right back into place. A few minutes later, Jimmy will be using his arm as if nothing happened. Even without this maneuver there’s a very good chance that Jimmy will eventually flex his arm and pop the elbow back into place on his own. If he gets nursemaid’s elbow in the evening, and there’s no swelling or pain, you can just put him to bed and you’ll probably see him using his arm normally in the morning. If not, you’ll have to take him to the doctor.
Nursemaid’s elbow tends to recur in children who are prone to it. If your child fits this profile, you may want to have your doctor teach you how to do the simple repair maneuver so that you don’t have to pay him a visit each time it happens. And you can just forget about playing 1,2,3—Jump! and hanging Jimmy by his arms until he grows up.