How can I tell if my child has broken a bone?
Although the term fracture may sound serious, it is just another name for a broken bone. As you probably remember from your own childhood, fractures are very common. In fact, they are the fourth most common injury among children under age six. Falls cause most of the fractures in this age group, but the most serious bone breaks usually result from car crashes.
A broken bone in a child is different from one in an adult, because young bones are more flexible and have a thicker covering, which makes them better able to absorb shock. Children’s fractures rarely require surgical repair. They usually just need to be kept free of movement, most often through the use of a molded cast.
Types of Fractures
Most youngsters, broken bones are either “greenstick” fractures, in which the bone bends like green wood and breaks only on one side, or “torus” fractures, in which the bone is buckled, twisted, and weakened but not completely broken. A “bend” fracture refers to a bone that is bent but not broken, and is also relatively common among youngsters. “Complete” fractures, in which the bone breaks all the way through, also occur in young children.
Because your child’s bones are still growing, he is vulnerable to an additional type of fracture that does not occur in adults. This involves damage to the growth plates at the ends of the bones, which regulate future growth. If this part of the bone does not heal properly after the fracture, the bone may grow at an angle or more slowly than the other bones in the body. Unfortunately, the impact on the bone’s growth may not be visible for a year or more after the injury, so these fractures must be followed carefully by the pediatrician for twelve to eighteen months to make sure no growth damage has occurred.
Fractures that involve injury to the growth plate sometimes need surgery to minimize the risk of future growth problems. Fractures around the elbow often cause the arm to heal abnormally, resulting in a crooked position. Many require surgery to minimize this risk. Children with fractures near the elbow may be referred to an orthopedic specialist.