Learning About a Growth Plate Fracture in Children

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What is a growth plate fracture?

Growth plate fracture in the lower arm

A growth plate fracture is a break in a child's long bone, such as a thigh bone. Forearms, lower legs, and fingers have long bones. Bones in children grow from a strip of cartilage near the end of bone. This is called the growth plate.

Breaks that go through the growth plate are called growth plate fractures. This type of break is also called a Salter-Harris fracture.

Growth plates are located at both ends of a long bone. A break that goes through the growth plate can affect the growth of that bone. Sometimes it can be hard to tell if and how a break goes through the growth plate. Doctors use a system called Salter-Harris to rate the injury. The system describes how the break affects the growth area and the bone around it. And it helps the doctor choose the right treatment for your child's injury.

What is different about a growth plate fracture?

A growth plate broken bone is important because your child's bones are still growing. Treatment will help the broken bone heal correctly and help keep it growing at the same rate as other bones. This helps make sure that one bone isn't longer than the other. For example, if the break is in a lower leg, treatment is aimed at keeping it growing at the same rate as the uninjured leg.

This type of bone break usually heals as it should. The concern will be for how the break affects the growth plate and future bone growth.

How do these breaks happen?

A fall or a collision is often the cause of this type of break. Children can have a break from falling off a skateboard or colliding with another player during a hockey game. These breaks can also happen in a car crash.

How is this break diagnosed?

Doctors do a physical examination of the injured area. Your child may have an X-ray, CT scan, or MRI.

How is a growth plate fracture treated?

Treatment will depend on how serious the break is and its location.

The doctor may have put the broken bone in a splint or a cast. That will allow it to heal or keep it stable until your child sees a doctor in follow-up. It may take weeks or months for your child's break to heal.

Your child may only need a cast or splint. Some breaks may need surgery to realign the bone or keep it in place.

Treatment may include more follow-up visits so the doctor can see that bone growth is happening as it should.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

Where can you learn more?

Go to http://www.healthwise.net/ed

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