Should Your Child See a Doctor?
Is this your child's symptom?
- Injuries to the arm (shoulder to fingers)
- Injuries to a bone, muscle, joint or ligament
- Excluded: Muscle pain caused by too much exercise or work (overuse). Covered in Arm Pain.
Types of Arm Injuries
- Fractures. Fractures are broken bones. A broken collarbone is the most common broken bone in children. It's easy to notice because the collar bone is tender to touch. Also, the child cannot raise the arm upward.
- Dislocations. This happens when a bone is pulled out of a joint. A dislocated elbow is the most common type of this injury in kids. It's caused by an adult quickly pulling or lifting a child by the arm. Mainly seen in 1 to 4 year olds. It's also easy to spot. The child will hold his arm as if it were in a sling. He will keep the elbow bent and the palm of the hand down.
- Sprains. Sprains are stretches and tears of ligaments.
- Strains. Strains are stretches and tears of muscles (such as a pulled muscle).
- Muscle Overuse. Muscle pain can occur without an injury. There is no fall or direct blow. Muscle overuse is from hard work or sports (such as a sore shoulder).
- Muscle bruise from a direct blow
- Bone bruise from a direct blow
- Skin Injury. Examples are a cut, scratch, scrape or bruise. All are common with arm injuries.
- Mild: Your child feels pain and tells you about it. But, the pain does not keep your child from any normal activities. School, play and sleep are not changed.
- Moderate: The pain keeps your child from doing some normal activities. It may wake him or her up from sleep.
- Severe: The pain is very bad. It keeps your child from doing all normal activities.
When to Call for Arm Injury
Call 911 Now
- Serious injury with many broken bones
- Major bleeding that can't be stopped
- Bone is sticking through the skin
- You think your child has a life-threatening emergency
Call Doctor Now or Go to ER
- Can't move the shoulder, elbow or wrist normally
- Can't open and close the hand normally
- Skin is split open or gaping and may need stitches
- Cut over knuckle of hand
- Age under 1 year old
- Severe pain and not improved 2 hours after taking pain medicine
- You think your child has a serious injury
- You think your child needs to be seen, and the problem is urgent
Call Doctor Within 24 Hours
- Very large bruise or swelling
- Pain not better after 3 days
- You think your child needs to be seen, but the problem is not urgent
Call Doctor During Office Hours
- Injury limits sports or school work
- Dirty cut and no tetanus shot in over 5 years
- Clean cut and no tetanus shot in over 10 years
- Pain lasts over 2 weeks
- You have other questions or concerns
Self Care at Home
- Bruised muscle or bone from direct blow
- Pain in muscle (from minor pulled muscle)
- Pain around joint (from minor stretched ligament)
Seattle Children’s Urgent Care Locations
If your child’s illness or injury is life-threating, call 911.
Care Advice for Minor Arm Injuries
- What You Should Know About Minor Arm Injuries:
- During sports, muscles and bones get bruised.
- Muscles get stretched.
- Here is some care advice that should help.
- Pain Medicine:
- To help with the pain, give an acetaminophen product (such as Tylenol).
- Another choice is an ibuprofen product (such as Advil). Ibuprofen works well for this type of pain.
- Use as needed.
- Cold Pack for Pain:
- For pain or swelling, use a cold pack. You can also use ice wrapped in a wet cloth.
- Put it on the sore muscles for 20 minutes.
- Repeat 4 times on the first day, then as needed.
- Reason: Helps the pain and helps stop any bleeding.
- Caution: Avoid frostbite.
- Use Heat After 48 Hours:
- If pain lasts over 2 days, put heat on the sore muscle.
- Use a heat pack, heating pad or warm wet washcloth.
- Do this for 10 minutes, then as needed.
- Reason: Increase blood flow and improve healing.
- Caution: Avoid burns.
- Rest the Arm:
- Rest the injured arm as much as possible for 48 hours.
- What to Expect:
- Pain and swelling most often peak on day 2 or 3.
- Swelling should be gone by 7 days.
- Pain may take 2 weeks to fully go away.
- Call Your Doctor If:
- Pain becomes severe
- Pain is not better after 3 days
- Pain lasts more than 2 weeks
- You think your child needs to be seen
- Your child becomes worse
And remember, contact your doctor if your child develops any of the 'Call Your Doctor' symptoms.
Disclaimer: This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. It is provided for educational purposes only. You assume full responsibility for how you choose to use this information.
Last Reviewed: 03/19/2018
Last Revised: 05/07/2017
Copyright 1994-2017 Schmitt Pediatric Guidelines LLC. All rights reserved.