BACKGROUND: Pulled elbow (nursemaid's elbow) is a common injury in young children. It results from a sudden pull on the arm, usually by an adult or taller person, which pulls the radius through the annular ligament, resulting in subluxation (partial dislocation) of the radial head. The child experiences sudden acute pain and loss of function in the affected arm. Pulled elbow is usually treated by manual reduction of the subluxed radial head. Various manoeuvres can be applied. Most textbooks recommend supination of the forearm, as opposed to pronation and other approaches. It is unclear which manoeuvre is most successful. This is an update of a Cochrane review first published in 2009.
OBJECTIVES: The objective of this review is to compare the effectiveness and painfulness of the different methods used to manipulate pulled elbow in young children.
SEARCH METHODS: We searched the Cochrane Bone, Joint and Muscle Trauma Group Specialised Register, the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, MEDLINE, EMBASE, CINAHL, LILACS, PEDro, clinical trial registers and reference lists of articles. Date of last search: July 2011.
SELECTION CRITERIA: Any randomised or quasi-randomised controlled clinical trials evaluating manipulative interventions for pulled elbow were included. Our primary outcome was failure at the first attempt, necessitating further treatment.
DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: Two review authors independently evaluated trials for inclusion and, for the included trials, independently assessed the risk of bias and extracted data.
MAIN RESULTS: One trial with 66 children was newly included in this update. Overall, four trials with 379 children, all younger than seven years old, were included. All four trials compared pronation versus supination. One trial was at high risk of selection bias because allocation was not concealed and all four trials were at high risk of detection bias due to the lack of assessor blinding. Pronation resulted in statistically significantly less failure than supination (21/177 versus 47/181, risk ratio 0.45; 95% confidence interval 0.28 to 0.73). Pain perception was reported by two trials but data were unavailable for pooling. Both studies concluded that the pronation technique was less painful than the supination technique.
AUTHORS' CONCLUSIONS: There is limited evidence from four small low-quality trials that the pronation method might be more effective and less painful than the supination method for manipulating pulled elbow in young children. We recommend that a high quality randomised trial be performed to strengthen the evidence.