Pulled elbow is a common injury affecting children below the age of 5, but mostly 2 to 3 year olds. It is a mild dislocation of the elbow, which is the result of the lower arm (forearm) slipping out of its normal position at the elbow joint.
It happens when a child's outstretched arm is pulled suddenly, usually by an adult. Typically this happens when the child is being taken somewhere they don't want to go and is lifted up by one arm. The top of the radius (one of the 2 forearm bones) is pulled through the ligament that joins it to the neighbouring ulna bone.
The affected child is usually crying and won't move their arm. It will be limp by their side or, if they are sitting, supported in their lap.
The problem can be quickly rectified by your doctor holding the elbow firmly and quickly rotating the forearm in an outward direction. Often a ‘click’ will be heard and the child will soon regain the use of their arm.
An X-ray is not usually required but may be done if your doctor suspects another injury, such as a fracture.
Pulled elbow is not a serious injury and usually does not cause long-term damage.
2. MJA Practice Essentials. 11. Fractures and minor head injuries: minor injuries in children II. MJA 2005; 182 (12): 644-648
3. RCH Melbourne. Pulled elbow. http://www.rch.org.au/kidsinfo/fact_sheets/Pulled_Elbow/ (accessed Feb 2013).