I value knowledge. I don’t appreciate fear-mongering memes that attempt to make people believe that they are at risk of something terrible, without providing any evidence to back up this claim. When I see memes like this one (I won’t call it an infographic, because it’s not), I feel compelled to do the research necessary to support or refute the claims made:
The text accompanying this meme states:
Be careful with those little baby joints… Pediatricians who volunteer time in responding to questions for peaceful parenting have let us know that ‘swinging’ by well meaning adults is one of the most common ways for babies and children to suffer from dislocated joints and joint problems. Babies and children should not be swung, lifted or picked up by their arms.
(peaceful parenting on Facebook)
This type of elbow dislocation is called “nursemaid’s elbow”, because it was often seen in children being yanked about by their nursemaid (a.k.a. nanny).
The elbow has a ligament called the annular ligament. Its job is to keep the two bones in your forearm in the correct position around the elbow. When a child’s arm is pulled, the bone around the elbow can slip out of position. This most often occurs in children ages one to four. As you age the ligament strengthens making it less likely for the bone to slip out of place.
Here is what I found, after wading through similar scare tactics on popular health information websites:
The most common cause of nursemaid’s elbow is being grabbed or jerked by the arm, especially if these are done violently.
There is a slight risk of this occurring due to swinging your child by the wrists. However, the only source of information regarding the cause of this particular dislocation is most likely the person who perpetrated the injury. How many parents or caretakers claim they were swinging the child in play, when they actually yanked the child out of frustration or anger? At any rate, the risk is negligible.
The largest study of it’s kind found that, at one hospital, out of 240,000 pediatric patients (30,000 patients per year over the course of 8 years), 1,228 children presented with a dislocated elbow. That’s .5% of patients, for anyone interested in the actual prevalence of this occurring. Also, this study found a correlation between the child’s weight and the dislocations. The authors posit that childhood obesity increases the risk of this injury occurring. 27% of the children in the study were over the 95th percentile for weight. The study can be found here.
I like risk assessment. I like statistics. I like informed choices. Given the incredibly small chance of elbow dislocation during innocuous playful interaction with my children via swinging or other physical play, I think I’ll take my chances.