Growth Plate Fractures

What are Growth Plate Fractures?

Children’s bones differ from adult bones in many ways. One way is that children’s bones contain growth plates or areas at end of long bones that help assist the bone in growing longer and thicker as time goes by. When one of these growth plates breaks, it is called a growth plate fracture or an epiphyseal fracture. This is a common type of fracture for children and teenagers.

Since girls tend to grow to their mature height faster than boys, boys are most prone to getting these kinds of fractures. Causes of growth plate fractures include getting hit hard on the bone; overuse from work or play; accidents such as auto accidents or falls; radiation in the area and children who suffer from neurological conditions that makes it hard to walk normally.

What are the Symptoms of Growth Plate Fractures?

There are five types of growth plate fractures. The differences are only in where the fracture is located on the growth plate and if it separates the plate from the rest of the bone. Only X-rays can reveal what type of growth plate fracture a child has. However, the symptoms for all five types are nearly the same.

Symptoms include

The child will experience pain, swelling, hot skin over the fractured area and visible new lumps or other deformities of the limb where the fracture occurs. The child may not be able to use the limb or tolerate any pressure, even clothes, on the limb.

Growth Plate Fractures Causes

Most growth plate fractures occur as the result of either a traumatic incident, such as a fall or car accident, or from repetitive stress.

Approximately one-third of fractures are caused by injuries sustained during competitive sports. These may be single events or the result of overuse. Some of the most common injuries from overuse are shoulder injuries associated with throwing in sports such as baseball and football; wrist fractures in gymnasts; and ankle fractures in runners.

About one-fifth of growth plate fractures occur during physical recreational activities, such as skateboarding, biking, or skiing. These are often the result of a fall.

Growth plate fractures can also be caused by other factors, although these are far less common:

  • Injuries from child abuse
  • Exposure to extreme cold
  • Radiation and certain medications, such as chemotherapy for cancer and prolonged steroid use
  • Some neurological disorders, such as those involving sensory deficits or musculature issues, and insensitivity to physical pain
  • Genetics, including genetic disorders and gene mutations that affect the formation and growth of bones
  • ¬†Metabolic disease, including kidney disease and hormonal disorders

How are Growth Plate Fractures Treated?

If left untreated the bone where the fracture is will stop growing. A broken growth plate is a medical emergency.

Treatment includes

Make sure to bring the child to a hospital right away. First the child will need X-rays to determine where and how bad the fracture is. Some fractures may need surgery in order to heal properly. Most will only need re-positioning and a cast like with most other broken bone injuries. The child may be given exercises to do as he or she recovers.

To make sure that the bone is healing properly, the child should get X-rays three months and six months after getting a cast or surgery.

Growth Plate Fractures Prevention

Growth plate fractures can be prevented through better nutrition, the use of protective gear, and athletic conditioning.

Nutrition is important for overall bone strength. Adequate calcium during childhood and adolescence creates stronger, denser bones that are better able to withstand stress. Calcium is found in milk and other dairy products, as well as other foods. Supplements may also be recommended, especially for those who are lactose intolerant or otherwise do not get enough calcium in their diets.

Proper protective gear also helps prevent injuries in both competitive sports and recreational activities. Children should wear appropriate gear such as helmets, padding and shin guards when engaging in activities that have a high risk of injury.

Children and adolescents who participate in sports benefit from strength training and stretching. Strength training helps muscles develop, which provides more skeletal support, as well as increasing bone density and strength. Flexibility training reduces the pull of muscles on the growth plates, but must be done carefully to avoid excessive stretching, which may cause injuries.

Last Reviewed:
September 21, 2016
Last Updated:
December 29, 2017
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