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The Danger of Swinging Your Child by the Arms

Image Source: Thinkstock
Image Source: Thinkstock

Light snowflakes tickled our eyelashes. Our 1-year-old daughter’s mittens wouldn’t stay on, so I held her small hands in mine to keep them warm as we waited in the long line down the street to see Santa.

The long, meandering line made me wonder if we’d ever get to see Santa, but I kept that thought to myself. I looked at my phone — almost bedtime. We’d have to forgo routine tonight. This was special.

A dear friend of our family was visiting from out of state and our oldest daughter, then 3, was enamored by his childlike playfulness. She didn’t seem to notice that he was really visiting me and my husband, and was thrilled that he was seemingly visiting simply to play with her.

Our friend and 3-year-old were playing up ahead with some of the other kids while my husband and I kept our 1-year-old happy, so I didn’t see him swinging her by the arms.

I turned around and watched as he set her back down. At first, all seemed fine until she tried to move her arm.

She began wailing uncontrollably.

“What’s wrong, sweetie? Take a big deep breath and try and tell us.”

“I CAN’T MOVE MY ARM!” Her frightful screaming caught the attention of everyone else in line.

We rushed her into the nearest store to take off her puffy winter coat and get a better look. Not knowing any better, we assumed it was her shoulder. We gently poked and prodded. Her floppy arm dangled at her side, and as the minutes wore on, we watched the crowds plod forward to see the man in the red suit. If we didn’t get back out there, we’d never get to see him.

My daughter calmed down and told us she was ready to go see Santa. At this point, it would certainly take forever, but we agreed to give it one more go. As soon as we got back in line, her frantic screams started again. This wasn’t going to work.

We crushed her dreams and took her to the emergency room.

The nurse informed the doctor of the situation. Without a word, he put a hand behind her elbow, faced her palm forward, and touched her hand to her shoulder. My daughter screamed bloody murder, and as he exited the room he said, “I’ll come back in a moment and explain once she’s calmed down.”

He closed the door. She immediately quieted as she moved her arm, looking at it in disbelief. “Look! It’s fine now!”

The doctor stepped back into the room after he heard the screams quell, explaining to us that she had something known as “nursemaid’s elbow,” technically known as a radial head subluxation. Basically, when she was lifted up by the arm, it slightly dislocated at the elbow. It happens more easily in young children because their bones are still forming and their ligaments are loose. The elbow likely won’t swell, and the pain is usually minimal when the child is not trying to move the arm. Severe pain may indicate a more serious problem.

The doctor told us that if it happened again, we could perform the same move on her to fix the problem. Thankfully I have not had to do this and am not sure if I’d be brave enough to do so without the help of a doctor. There are numerous videos on YouTube that show the maneuver, step-by-step, so if you’re braver than I, you can give yourself a quick tutorial. I’ll be very clear — I do not suggest doing this on your own unless your child’s doctor gives you the go-ahead.*

Our friend felt awful about “breaking” our child, traumatizing her, and forcing her to miss out on telling Mr. Claus what she wanted for Christmas, but she was completely unscathed, jumping like a pogo stick, giggling, “SWING ME SWING ME SWING ME!”

No way, kiddo.

*Disclaimer: I am not a physician and as always you should consult your child’s doctor for any health concerns.

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Article Posted 4 years Ago

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