Whether it’s playing sports or riding their bikes, kids have plenty of opportunities to get hurt. While bumps and bruises are a normal part of childhood, what happens when they break a bone?
Children’s bones are still growing, which means they are vulnerable to certain fractures, known as growth plate fractures, that do not occur in adults. While there is typically minimal long-term impact on a child’s growth due to these injuries, parents need to understand what growth plates are and things to keep in mind if your child suffers a bone-related injury.
What Are Growth Plates?
Growth plates are areas of soft tissue, known as cartilage cells, found near the ends of long bones, including the femur, tibia and humerus, in adolescents and children. As the cells multiply, the bones grow longer, making kids taller. Once a child reaches maturity, the growth plates close and are replaced with solid bone.
What Causes Growth Plate Fractures?
“A growth plate fracture affects the growing cartilage near the ends of children’s bones,” said Matthew Brown, MD, a Banner Health pediatric orthopedic surgeon at Banner Children’s Specialists Surgery Clinic who specializes in sports medicine and injuries. “Because the growth plates can be weaker than surrounding soft tissue structures like ligaments, children are more susceptible to this type of injury.”
According to Dr. Brown, these are quite common and account for 15-30% of fractures in children and adolescents.
Growth plate fractures can result from a single traumatic event, such as a fall or collision, or overuse and repetitive use, such as in sports like gymnastics, track and field or basketball. But growth plate injuries are most commonly seen during some kind of play, be it sports or at the trampoline park.
Why Are Growth Plate Injuries a Special Concern?
Since open growth plates are constantly producing new cartilage cells, they begin to heal quicker than other fracture sites. If an entire growth plate is injured, it can cause growth to halt. If only part is affected, the bone can grow in the wrong direction. This is why prompt diagnosis and treatment are important.
“If the growth plate is affected, the fracture can heal quicker because it is at the site of the most growth and healing,” Dr. Brown said. “That being said, displaced fractures at the growth plate need to be reduced quickly because, after time, it can be worse for the growth plate to reduce the fracture as opposed to letting it heal in a deformed position and having the bone remodel over time.”
“The year-over-year risk for a fracture is highest between ages 10 and 14,” Dr. Brown added. “To reduce the risk for injury, parents should make sure kids have the required and recommended safety equipment for their sports and learn proper technique and movements.”
How Are Growth Plates Treated?
Treatment for growth plate injuries are like other fractures and can range from a cast to surgery, but Dr. Brown said it depends on several factors including:
- Which bone is injured
- Type of fracture
- Alignment of the affected bone(s)
- Child’s age
“Many of these types of injuries are treated successfully with a cast or splint, but some may require a reduction where bones are realigned if they’ve been displaced. A select few cases may need both reduction and surgical fixation,” Dr. Brown said.
“Fortunately, with proper care and treatment, most growth plate injuries heal without complications,” Dr. Brown said. “With so many complexities related to growth plates, however, make sure your child sees a pediatric orthopedic surgeon or a doctor who specializes in bone and joint problems in children.”
Has your child recently been diagnosed with a growth plate fracture? Schedule an appointment with one of our pediatric orthopedic specialists at bannerhealth.com.