It’s warm and kids are making the most of the sunshine and outdoors. With more activity the chance of bumps, scrapes and even a broken bone, increases. Michael Elliott, MD, head of the Department of Pediatric Orthopedics and Scoliosis answers some common questions about bone fractures. (This article was original published in the July 2019 issue of South Reno Kids & Sports.)
Is there a difference between broken bones and fractures?
No, these are two different names for the same injury. Of course the common term is a broken bone. Using either name will describe your concerns. Medical personnel typically describe a broken bone as a fracture to a specific bone. For example, a broken wrist is also a fractured distal radius. To clarify, this describes the injured bone and the precise location.
How do I know if my child has broken their bone?
Many times children will fall and complain of their arm or leg hurting. In most cases the pain goes away and the child will return to their activities. When there is a deformity to the limb (curve in arm) and the child is complaining of pain, it is probably a fracture. If the arm or leg looks straight, look to see if there is any swelling or bruising. Both are signs of a possible fracture. Finally, if the limb looks normal but the child continues to complain, gently push on the bone. Likewise if it causes the same pain, then they likely have a fracture and should have an x-ray.
My child fractured their growth plate, what does this mean?
Growth comes from this area of the bone. In detail, these are located all over the body but typically at the end of the bones. With this in mind, fractures to these areas can result in the bone growing abnormally. Because of potential shortening of the arm or leg, or bones growing crooked, it is important to follow fractures closely (up to 1-2 years or longer). It is better to identify a problem early. Small problems can be treated with small surgeries.
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What if the bones of the x-ray do not line up?
Because children are growing, unlike adults, their bones will remodel and straighten with growth. The amount of remodeling occurring depends on a child’s age, the bone fractured and the location. In many cases an angled bone will grow straight over the course of a year. For this reason, someone with experience in caring for children needs to follow bone growth.
How long does it take fractures to heal?
Factors deciding when a cast can come off include:
- Child’s age.
- Bone fractured.
- Fracture location.
Young children heal faster than teens, teens heal faster than young adults, who heal faster than older adults. In young children most fractures heal in 4-6 weeks. However, teens generally take 6 weeks to heal, and adults can take much longer. Although your child is out of their cast, it may not be healed completely to return to all activities. Placing a splint is during this time is common. This typically gives them added protection for several weeks after their cast is removed – in case they forget their limitations.
What if my child is still limping?
Whether a child is in a walking or non-weight bearing cast, removing it often leaves them stiff and sore. Therefore many children will walk as though they still have a cast in place. In most cases this resolves in about three weeks. Regardless, if your child is still limping or walking abnormally after three weeks, contact the treating doctor. They may benefit from physical therapy or a repeat evaluation.