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Dislocated Wrist in Toddlers and Young Children--What To Do

Signs of a Dislocated Wrist

A child who seems unable to use her hand, but lets it hang limply her side, may have a dislocated wrist.

Sometimes parents are aware of an incident that could have caused a dislocation. Perhaps a parent pulled on a child's hand to get them up off the floor. Or the child could have slipped or fallen while an adult was holding them by the hand.

But sometimes this type of injury can occur without the parents or other adults knowing how it happened. For example, another child may have pulled on your child's hand while playing.

How Does a Child's Wrist Get Dislocated?

Dislocation of the wrist is common in toddlers, though rare in adults. The reason it is common is because the wrists of young children are easily dislocated. I’ve known it to happen while roughhousing; a sibling pulls on a toddler’s hand, the child cries and then seems unable to use her hand.

Parents will sometimes unintentionally dislocate a child’s wrist. Have you ever taken hold of a child’s hand to pull her to her feet? I’ve known of such dislocations to occur when a child is lying on the floor of a retail establishment, throwing a tantrum, and the frustrated mom takes the child’s hand and pulls her to her feet.

There are other ways this could happen, too. If you were holding a child by the hand while navigating stairs, the child could slip, putting the whole weight of her body on her wrist.

What To Do about a Child's Dislocated Wrist

I dislocated my daughter’s wrist by pulling her up off the floor. My babysitter diagnosed the problem immediately. She told me that her daughter got a dislocated wrist when one of her brothers pulled on her hand.

My sitter took her little girl to the emergency room, where they were kept waiting for several hours. While they were waiting, the little girl’s father gently manipulated the wrist back into place before they were seen in the ER. But they were still charged for the ER visit.

I was afraid to try to reduce the dislocation myself, so I took my daughter to a chiropractor. The chiropractor had my daughter’s wrist back in place so quickly that I didn’t see what he did, and she show no sign at all of discomfort.

I believe our conversation went:

Me: “Can you fix it?”

Him: “It’s fixed.”

Can You Reduce a Dislocated Wrist Yourself?

My babysitter’s husband was able to reduce his daughter’s dislocated wrist, more or less by accident. He had never heard or read of the correct method for this, but merely experimented gently. I’m thinking it can’t be that hard.

The Cottage Physician, by Faulkner and Carmichael, originally published in the 1890s, gives directions for reducing a variety of dislocations, as does Being Your Own Wilderness Doctor, by Bradford Angier.

If you want to have a very gentle try at reducing a dislocated wrist before running off to the ER or to a chiropractor, here are the directions from The Cottage Physician: “The hand should be grasped firmly and drawn straight….All that is required is full extension, by which the hand may be drawn straight.”

Obviously, this is to be done very gently (but firmly).

How To Prevent a Child from Getting a Dislocated Wrist

Parents and other adults can take precautions to avoid an accidental dislocation.

When you are walking with a small child, guiding them through traffic, through crowds, or down the front steps--or any time a child needs someone to physically hold onto them--always hold the child by the forearm, rather than by the hand. If you need to pull a child out of harm's way, grasp them by the arm, and not by the hand.


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