Dislocated Elbow in Children: Care Instructions

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Your Care Instructions

When the bones of the elbow are forced out of their normal position, it is called a dislocated elbow. This can cause pain from the elbow to the hand. A doctor can put your child's elbow back in place.

Your doctor probably put a splint on your child's elbow. This is to keep it in position while it heals. Your doctor may also recommend physiotherapy. This can help your child exercise the elbow and keep it flexible. You can also help your child get better with rest and home treatment.

If your child injured muscles or tendons, he or she may need more treatment or surgery.

Your child may have had a sedative to help him or her relax. Your child may be unsteady after having sedation. It takes time (sometimes a few hours) for the medicine's effects to wear off. Common side effects of sedation include nausea, vomiting, and feeling sleepy or cranky.

The doctor has checked your child carefully, but problems can develop later. If you notice any problems or new symptoms, get medical treatment right away.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

How can you care for your child at home?

  • If your doctor put a splint on your child's elbow, have your child wear it as directed. Do not remove it until your doctor says it is okay.
  • While your child wears the splint, have him or her wiggle the uninjured fingers, make a fist, or squeeze a soft ball. This can reduce swelling and stiffness.
  • If your child has an elastic bandage, make sure it is tight. But it should not be so tight that your child's arm gets numb or tingles. Loosen the bandage if it is too tight or your child's hand swells.
  • Prop up your child's elbow on a pillow when he or she ices it or anytime your child sits or lies down during the next 3 days. Have your child try to keep his or her arm above the level of the heart. This will help reduce swelling.
  • Have your child rest the arm as much as possible. Your child may need to change some activities to avoid movements that bother the elbow.
  • If the elbow is swollen, put ice or a cold pack on it for 10 to 20 minutes at a time. Try to do this every 1 to 2 hours for the next 3 days (when your child is awake) or until the swelling goes down. Put a thin cloth between the ice and your child's skin.
  • Give your child medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor if you think your child is having a problem with his or her medicine.
  • If your doctor recommends it, give your child anti-inflammatory medicines such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) to reduce pain and swelling. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
  • If your doctor recommends exercises, help your child do them as directed.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think your child may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • Your child has trouble breathing. Symptoms may include:
    • Using the belly muscles to breathe.
    • The chest sinking in or the nostrils flaring when your child struggles to breathe.
  • Your child is very sleepy and you have trouble waking him or her.
  • Your child passes out (loses consciousness).

Call your doctor or nurse call line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your child has new or worse nausea or vomiting.
  • Your child has signs that the elbow may be dislocated again, including:
    • Severe pain.
    • An elbow that looks like a bone is out of position.
    • Not being able to bend or straighten the arm.
  • Your child's elbow or arm is cool or pale or changes colour.
  • Your child cannot move his or her fingers.

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse call line if:

  • Your child does not get better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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