While a slight stumble can set an adult back weeks, children often seem to bounce back, rarely missing a beat. But just because children are usually more physically active than adults doesn’t mean their bones aren’t at risk of fractures – that’s because their bones have not yet ossified. The last part of the bone to ossify is called a growth plate, and if your child complains of growing pains, growth plates could be to blame. Here’s what parents need to know about pediatric fractures, healthy bones, and growth plates.
Growth Plates and Ossification
Ossification is a fancy name for bone formation. The ossification process gets underway in utero toward the end of the first trimester and wraps up when a child nears the end of adolescence, usually in the high school years. The last part of our bone to ossify is the growth plate; it is also one of the easiest parts of a child’s musculoskeletal system to fracture. Growth plates determine the shape and length of the mature bone, and it’s important to keep an eye on them. That’s because as they close and are replaced by solid bone, any injury to that growth plate may result in a crooked or misaligned mature bone that could impact the rest of your life.
Those at Risk
The most common cause of growth plate fractures is overuse, especially in young athletes. Growth plate fractures are quite common in children who are committed to sports in which their bones take a beating. Consider the trauma that affects a long-distance runner’s feet and knees, the strain placed on a young ballerina’s joints or the chronic overuse of muscles and joints in repetitive sports like swimming and tennis. Over time and with continued stress, the growth plate, still in the process of closing, will have been strained to the limit, causing a fracture.
Far less common but affecting growth plates nonetheless are extreme cold injuries such as frostbite, radiation treatments that may be used to treat childhood cancers, heredity (meaning gene mutations that affect skeletal formation may run in the family), and certain neurological conditions.
If your child complains of painful joints and is highly active in sports, has had a major growth spurt, or fits into any of the previously mentioned risk categories, a growth plate fracture may be to blame. Look for swelling, tenderness, a deformity on the site of injury, and extreme pain when moving the limb. Diagnosing the injury is as easy as undergoing an X-ray or MRI. For further diagnostics, your child may be referred for a computed tomography (CT) or ultrasound.
Treating growth plate fractures include both non-surgical and surgical options, depending on the findings of the diagnostic tests. To treat the injury, your orthopaedist may recommend rest and ice to let the fracture heal on its own. For more advanced cases, he may set the bone in place, then place a splint or cast around the injured limb to allow it to heal. Depending on the site of the fracture, your child may need to wear a walking boot or an arm cast for at least a couple of weeks. In more complex fractures, surgical intervention may be required, followed by physical therapy a part of the treatment plan.
Care for Pediatric Fractures in Westlake & Avon, OH
Failure to address a growth plate fracture can result in long-term complications. For this reason, it’s advised to take your child to an orthopaedist who specializes in the treatment of growth plate injuries. For more than 40 years the bone and joint specialists at Orthopaedic Associates have specialized in diagnostics, treatment, and rehabilitation of orthopaedic conditions in both children and adults. If you suspect your child has incurred a growth plate fracture, call us at (440) 892-1440 or (866) 362-7624 to schedule an appointment in either Westlake or Avon. We look forward to providing a lifetime of orthopaedic wellness for you and your family.