Many parents yank their toddlers up by an armpit. Sometimes it’s done out of convenience for the parent, while in other cases it’s done out of anger.
Sometimes toddlers and preschoolers are dragged by the armpit – usually when the child resists coming with the parent.
But just how likely can damage to the shoulder joint occur, even if it’s a convenience pull?
“You can damage the shoulder by grabbing a toddler by the armpit,” says Joel Gator Warsh, MD,of Integrative Pediatrics and Medicine, Studio City, CA, and part of the pediatric staff of Cedars-Sinai Hospital.
“Though it would be rare since the shoulder joint is very strong, it is possible to dislocate the shoulder if the child is pulled in just the right way,” continues Dr. Warsh.
“Children fall all the time but rarely get hurt. They are very tough, and therefore pulling on the arm will rarely cause an injury.”
When an injury to the shoulder does occur, just what happens?
Dr. Warsh explains, “A common condition where a child is lifted up from their arm and sustains an injury is called nursemaid’s elbow where the radial head subluxes (moves out) from its regular position in the elbow.
“The child often holds their arm still and cannot move it. A special maneuver performed by your physician can pop it back in.
“Similarly, if the arm is pulled in just the right way, you could damage the shoulder.
“The shoulder is surrounded by muscles and tendons which keep it very stable. The right force, in the exact wrong way, can mean an unlucky shoulder dislocation for a child and that should be evaluated immediately.”
A possible scenario is the toddler or preschooler suddenly crying or screaming, as the parent is pulling them by the armpit.
The parent might mistake the escalation in crying or yelling as a temper tantrum, when in fact, it’s from the pain of a suddenly sublexed shoulder.
A child this young can’t say, “Mama, I think my shoulder is dislocated.”
Consider other ways of corralling a toddler than to pull them up by the armpit. This is also commonly done to get young children into a car.
Use more patience and just let them climb in at their pace. If they can’t or you’re in a hurry where seconds count, then pick them up with both hands under the armpits.