Therapy Thursday: Radial Head Dislocation


What is a Radial Head Dislocation: A radial head dislocation is when the radius bone in the forearm slips out of its normal position at the elbow joint. This injury is more common in children because their ligaments and joints are still developing.

Causes: A radial head dislocation typically occurs due to a sudden pull or traction on the child’s arm, often because of:

  1. Falling onto an outstretched hand.
  2. Pulling or yanking on a child’s arm (e.g., when a child suddenly drops to the ground or changes direction while you are holding their hand).
  3. A direct blow to the elbow.

Symptoms: Caregivers should be aware of the following signs and symptoms of radial head dislocation:

  1. Pain: The child may experience pain in the elbow or forearm.
  2. Limited Movement: The child may be unable to fully bend or straighten their arm. Keep this in mind when helping children into their coats and backpacks at the end of the day.
  3. Holding Arm: The child may cradle their arm with the other hand.
  4. Refusal to Use Arm: The child might avoid using the affected arm due to pain.
  5. Swelling or Bruising: There could be visible signs of swelling or bruising around the elbow.

Prevention: To help prevent radial head dislocation, caregivers can:

  1. Avoid pulling or putting excessive strain on a child’s arm.
  2. Know the child. If they are prone to suddenly dropping, be prepared to loosen your handhold and move your body with theirs.
  3. Instead of lifting a child by their arms, guide or support the child at their trunks or show them how to complete tasks independently.
  4. Having difficulty with transitions? Reach out to your therapy team to create a collaborative plan.
  5. Encourage safe play and activities.

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