The usefulness of ultrasound and the posterior fat pad sign in pulled elbow

Soon Hyuck Lee, Seul Gi Kim, Donghee Kwak, Seok Ha Hong, Young Keun Lee, Woo Young Jang

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    3 Citations (Scopus)


    Introduction: A pulled elbow is a common cause of acute elbow pain that is generally managed by a reduction maneuver without radiographic examination. However, children with atypical presentation with no history of abrupt longitudinal traction should undergo elbow imaging. This study aimed to investigate plain radiography findings and determine the usefulness of ultrasonography (US) in atypical pulled elbow. Materials and methods: We retrospectively reviewed the medical records and images of 37 (22 males) consecutive patients with pulled elbow who presented with an atypical history or failed reduction between April 2015 and September 2018. Mean age at presentation was 4.34 years (range, 1.25–9.5 years). Of the 37 elbows, 20 were left elbows. The injury mechanism, incidence of the posterior fat pad sign on plain radiographs, and characteristic US findings, pre- and post- reduction, were investigated. Results: The original mechanisms of injury included slipping (n = 14), rolling over the arm (n = 7), vague history (n = 6), falling down (n = 6), abrupt longitudinal traction (n = 2), and direct injury (n = 2). On plain radiographs, six of the 37 elbows (16%) showed the posterior fat pad sign. Before the reduction, an entrapped supinator, a pathognomonic sign of pulled elbow, was identified on US in all cases. After reduction, the characteristic US findings showed a disentangled and swollen supinator (100%) and restored annular ligament (100%) in all successful cases. Although a click was not felt in three cases, the reductions were considered successful because the annular ligament was restored on US with free elbow motion. Conclusion: Pulled elbow may be caused by atypical mechanisms of injury, such as slipping and rolling over the arm. Clinicians should be aware of the possibility of the posterior fat pad sign on plain radiographs of pulled elbow to prevent unnecessary immobilization. In such circumstances, US is a useful method for detecting an entrapped supinator and confirming adequate reduction via restoration of the annular ligament in children with atypical pulled elbow.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1227-1231
    Number of pages5
    Issue number6
    Publication statusPublished - 2019 Jun

    Bibliographical note

    Funding Information:
    This work was supported by the National Research Foundation of Korea (NRF) grant funded by the Korea government (MSIT) ( NRF-2018R1C1B6005202 ).

    Publisher Copyright:
    © 2019 Elsevier Ltd


    • Atypical
    • Posterior fat pad sign
    • Pulled elbow
    • Ultrasonography

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Emergency Medicine
    • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine


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