Every time I see a mom or dad swinging their 2- or 3-year-old child by the arms, I am in a quandary. Should I, a complete stranger to the parents, inform them that swinging their child in such a manner is fraught with potential injury to the child's elbows?
Every time I see a mom or dad swinging their 2- or 3-year-old child by the arms, I am in a quandary.
Should I, a complete stranger to the parents, inform them that swinging their child in such a manner is fraught with potential injury to the child's elbows?
Years ago, I would not have any concerns about walking up to them and informing them about such a possibility. But today, offering such unsolicited medical advice has too many ramifications, including medical-legal ones.
What I am worried about is that a dislocation or subluxation of the bones in the child's elbow, usually the head of the radius bone, may take place.
When a subluxation takes place, the bone is not completely out of the joint socket, while with a dislocation, it is.
This is one of the most common orthopedic injuries in very young children.
When the dislocation takes place, the smile on the child's face, who is playfully and happily enjoying being swung back and forth, suddenly turns to tears because of pain in the elbow. Also, the child may not be able to move his or her arm. If the trauma to the elbow is severe enough, the bone may also be fractured.
Such subluxations or dislocations can also take place if the child's arm is pulled too quickly and with significant force.
To the parent, this is a scary scene, a crying child who can't move his arm.
Treatment consists of getting the dislocated bone back to its proper position within the joint. This is done by manipulation of the elbow. Usually, but not always, it takes place quite quickly and easily and can be performed in the doctor's office without any anesthesia.
However, at times it is more difficult to accomplish and the child may require sedation or anesthesia.
Such an injury to the elbow does not occur as frequently in adults.
If a child frequently dislocates his or her joints, such as elbows, hips, shoulders or knees, and they take place with very little trauma, then other medical conditions, although rare, should be considered.
So remember parents and grandparents, don't swing your little ones by the arms; by doing so, you have a good chance of injuring the child's elbow.
Massachusetts-based Dr. Murray Feingold is the physician in chief of the National Birth Defects Center, medical editor of WBZ-TV and WBZ radio, and president of the Genesis Fund. The Genesis Fund is a nonprofit organization that funds the care of children born with birth defects, mental retardation and genetic diseases.