Subluxation Of The Radial Head: What Is It?

The subluxation of the radial head is a common injury to the elbow that occurs particularly in children and is very painful. In today’s article, learn how this happens and how to solve this problem. 

Radial head subluxation: what is it?

The  subluxation of the radial head  is also known as the “Sunday arm” or “nanny elbow”. This is because nannies caring for young children often suffer from this elbow injury when the child pulls them hard on their arm.

As we shall see later in the article  , this trauma mostly arises when adults pull hard on the arms of a small child. Often it is the parents, grandparents or other people to whom this happens.

What is Radial Head Subluxation?

In the medical field, the subluxation of the radial head is a blockage of movement. The child can then no longer move their elbows, turning outwards becomes impossible. It is also very painful.

The age of the affected children is usually between one and five years. This rarely occurs in children over seven. Curiously, the left elbow is affected more often than the right. Girls are also more likely to suffer from it than boys.

Subluxation can also occur outside of the mentioned age, but these are exceptions. Occurrence on both sides is also very rare,  because the subluxation is caused by pulling hard on one side.

How does a subluxation of the radial head occur?

As mentioned earlier, the injury is caused by pulling hard on one arm. As a result, the radius head is dislocated and cannot find its way back into its correct position by itself. The ability to move is blocked. 

The elbow joint consists of three different bones: the spoke (radius), ulna (ulna) and humerus. The humerus runs between the shoulder and the elbow, the radius and ulna are in the forearm between the elbow and the wrist. 

So that the radial head stays in place when the humerus bone moves up and the ulna moves towards the ribs, it is held in place by an annular band. This annular band surrounds the radial head and allows it to move without dislodging from the joint. 

By the age of seven, the ring-shaped band is not properly formed; it is weak and lax. That is why it stretches quickly and has not yet reached the ultimate resistant elasticity. Therefore, the subluxation of the radial head is more common before the age of seven. 

The child’s anatomy, which is not yet fully developed, is more prone to injury. Often times, an adult will guide the young child by the hand or wrist, perhaps helping them to climb a step, or trying to prevent a fall. In these situations, the adult often pulls too hard on the arm of the little one unintentionally and this causes the radial head to dislocate because the ring-shaped band cannot hold it.

The child’s elbow is then blocked and they can no longer turn their hand to one side or the other because the dislocated radius head prevents this.

No hereditary factors could be identified that make this injury more likely. Some children have weaker ligaments and subluxation is more likely to occur. But in principle this can happen to any child.

How does a subluxation of the radial head occur?
The elbow joint is made up of three bones: the radius, ulna, and humerus.

Radial head subluxation: what are the symptoms?

This injury manifests itself in particular through pain. Small children cry intensely and larger children can point out the injured area. The  pain usually arises immediately after the forceful pulling that caused the injury. The elbow is extended and is usually right next to the body.

Even if only the elbow joint is injured,  one can think that the wrist or shoulder is also suffering from it if one observes the position of the arm of the affected child. Adults who observe the injury can also be mistaken because they hear a sound that they can misinterpret and subsequently believe that it is a different joint.

The adult causing the injury  may feel an unusual extension of the child’s arm,  but this is very subjective. However, he becomes aware of the child’s immediate crying and the  extended position of the arm. 

Radial head subluxation: what are the symptoms?
The immediate pain is a characteristic sign of the subluxation of the radial head. In addition, the ability to move is restricted.


Fortunately, treatment is very easy when done by a specialist. No surgical intervention is necessary, the problem can be resolved directly in the emergency room in a short time.

It is important to see a doctor before the twelve hours have elapsed. This will bring the radial head back into its original position  and the affected person will immediately regain their mobility.

The subluxation of the radial head can be repeated, but the older the child gets, the less likely it is. If it is repeated, the same treatment is used: the  doctor will correct the bone. 

There is therefore no need to worry excessively if this injury occurs unintentionally. Keep calm and take your child to the doctor or emergency room to resolve the problem. If the right treatment is carried out in a timely manner, there are no secondary symptoms and the pain stops immediately. 

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