What to Expect if Your Child Breaks His Growth Plate

If your child loves sports, at some point you’re likely to have a child with a broken bone. Perhaps they’ve had an accident while practicing gymnastics or skateboarding. About half of boys break bones in childhood, and girls aren’t far behind: 40% of girls break a bone. 

Bone fractures in children are most likely to occur from age 11-15, when they’re engaged in competitive sports or simply being very active. During that age span, they’re experiencing a puberty-related growth spurt, and the amount of minerals needed to keep the bones strong may not keep up with the rate of bone growth. 

If the break is at the end of the thigh, the forearm, or the hand at the wrist, you may hear that your child has broken the bone at a growth plate. This type of break makes the situation a bit more complicated, so you need to seek out an expert in treating pediatric orthopedic trauma, such as Dr. Andrew B. Weiss, a board-certified Diplomate of the American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery. 

What is a growth plate?

Your child’s growth plates consist of tissue at both ends of the longer bones in the body — thighs and forearms are just two examples. As the name implies, the growth plate tissue is what allows the bones to get longer — it’s where the bone growth occurs. The soft tissue turns into bone when your child’s growth is complete — generally by age 20, although every child’s bone growth is unique. 

Because the growth plates haven’t yet turned into solid bone in children, they’re more susceptible to fractures. Up to 30% of bone fractures in children are at the growth plates.

A growth plate fracture, if not treated promptly, can result in a leg or arm that’s crooked or shorter than another. Bearing weight on uneven legs causes hip and knee problems. With rapid and competent treatment, most growth plate fractures heal without complications.

Treatment for growth plate fractures 

Dr. Weiss reviews your child’s medical history and takes X-rays to see exactly where the fracture is. He may decide to order other tests as well.  

Nonsurgical treatment

Dr. Weiss may determine that he can treat the fracture without surgery. This is dependent on a number of factors, such as the severity of the break, the type of fracture, and the amount of misalignment.

If the bones are still in alignment and the growth plate is in place, he can apply a cast to keep everything stable while healing occurs. If the bones are slightly out of alignment, he may be able to move them back in place manually, using an anesthetic so your child doesn’t feel pain while he manipulates the area. 

In both cases, Dr. Weiss immobilizes the bone with a cast, using 3M® products and waterproof AquaCast® Liners. The cast holds the growth plate and bone in the right position during healing.

AquaCast Liners are completely waterproof, so your child can bathe and shower normally. There’s no more wrapping the arm or leg in plastic and sticking it out of the shower. Dr. Weiss uses the liners with all fiberglass casts. 

Surgical treatment

If surgery is required, Dr. Weiss makes sure the bones are in alignment and uses a variety of fasteners to hold everything in place. Then he applies a cast, which your child wears anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. 

Regaining range of motion 

Dr. Weiss may recommend physical therapy once the cast comes off. The therapy helps your child strengthen the muscles around the bone and return the arm or leg to a normal range of motion.

You should follow up at home to ensure your child does the exercises the therapist prescribes in order for your child to attain the most complete range of motion possible after surgery. Depending on the fracture, Dr. Weiss may ask you to follow up annually until bone growth is complete. 

Broken bones can be scary, so see an expert. Call Andrew B. Weiss, MD, in Beverly Hills, California, for compassionate care for all of your family’s orthopedic needs.

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