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Cracked Growth: Understanding and Treating Fractures in Growing Bones

Introduction to Growth Plate Fractures

Growth plates play a crucial role in the development and growth of bones in children and adolescents. These specialized areas of bone are responsible for adding length and shape to our skeletal structure.

Unfortunately, growth plates are vulnerable to fractures, which can have long-term implications if not properly diagnosed and treated. In this article, we will explore what growth plates are, the causes of growth plate fractures, as well as the methods for diagnosing these fractures.

1. Definition and Function of Growth Plates

Growth plates, also known as epiphyseal plates, are cartilaginous areas located near the ends of long bones.

They are responsible for the longitudinal growth of the bones, allowing them to increase in length as a child grows. As growth plates mature and harden into solid bone, the bones stop growing longer.

This process usually occurs in the late teens or early twenties. The primary function of growth plates is to enable bones to grow longer through the production of new bone tissue.

They consist of layers of cartilage cells, which actively divide and multiply, leading to the expansion of the plate and the lengthening of the bone. 2.

Causes of Growth Plate Fractures

Growth plate fractures commonly occur as a result of trauma, such as falls or accidents. The bones of children and adolescents are more susceptible to these fractures due to their active growth plates.

Some common causes include:

– Falls: Falling from a height or tripping can cause a child to land with excessive force, potentially leading to a growth plate fracture. – Sports Injuries: High-impact sports that involve running, jumping, or contact can put stress on growth plates, increasing the risk of fracture.

– Overuse: Repeated stress on a specific growth plate from activities like gymnastics or ballet can lead to stress fractures. – Accidents: Motor vehicle accidents or other traumatic incidents can cause enough force to fracture a growth plate.

It is important for parents, coaches, and healthcare providers to be aware of these potential causes of growth plate fractures to take necessary precautions and seek prompt medical attention if an injury does occur. 3.

Diagnosis of Growth Plate Fractures

Diagnosing growth plate fractures requires a combination of physical examination and diagnostic imaging tests. A healthcare provider will consider the child’s medical history, symptoms, and the circumstances surrounding the injury to determine the best course of action.

3.1 Physical Exam and X-rays

During a physical examination, the healthcare provider will assess the affected area for tenderness, swelling, and any visible deformities. They will also ask the child about their pain level and any limitations in movement.

X-rays are typically the first imaging test used to evaluate growth plate fractures. These images can reveal any fractures or displacement of the bones.

3.2 Additional Diagnostic Tests

In some cases, additional imaging tests may be necessary to provide a more detailed view of the injury. – Ultrasound: This imaging technique uses sound waves to create images of the soft tissues and can help identify injuries to the growth plates.

– CT Scans: Computed tomography scans provide detailed cross-sectional images of the bones and can reveal the extent of a growth plate fracture. – MRI Scans: Magnetic resonance imaging scans use powerful magnets and radio waves to produce detailed images of the bones and soft tissues.

They can help assess the extent of injury and identify any associated ligament or tendon damage. These additional diagnostic tests can aid in the accurate diagnosis of growth plate fractures and guide appropriate treatment.

In conclusion, understanding growth plate fractures is crucial for parents, coaches, and healthcare providers to ensure the well-being of growing children and adolescents. By recognizing the causes of growth plate fractures, such as falls, sports injuries, overuse, and accidents, we can take steps to prevent these injuries.

Additionally, through a thorough physical examination and the use of diagnostic imaging tests like X-rays, ultrasound, CT scans, and MRI scans, healthcare providers can accurately diagnose and treat growth plate fractures. With proper care, these injuries can heal properly, allowing children to resume their normal growth and development.

Treatment of Growth Plate Fractures

When a growth plate fracture is diagnosed, prompt and appropriate treatment is essential to ensure proper healing and prevent long-term complications. The treatment options for growth plate fractures range from non-surgical methods to surgical interventions, depending on the severity and nature of the fracture.

In this article, we will explore the different treatment approaches for growth plate fractures and discuss the potential complications that may arise. 3.

Non-Surgical Treatment (Splints and Casts)

For many growth plate fractures, non-surgical treatment methods are effective in promoting healing and stabilizing the injured bone. The primary goal of non-surgical treatment is to maintain the alignment of the fracture and provide support to the injured area.

This is typically achieved through the use of splints or casts. 3.1 Splints

Splints are commonly used for growth plate fractures that are not displaced or only minimally displaced.

A splint is a supportive device made of rigid or semi-rigid material, such as fiberglass or plastic, that is applied externally to immobilize the injured bone. The splint is secured in place using bandages or straps, providing stability to the fracture site.

Splints are versatile and can be adjusted as the swelling subsides or as the child’s limb grows. 3.2 Casts

Casts are utilized for more severe growth plate fractures or fractures that have been realigned through a closed reduction.

A closed reduction refers to the process of manipulating the bones back into their proper position without the need for surgery. Once the bones are properly aligned, a cast is applied to keep them in place and provide rigid support for healing.

Casts can be made of various materials, such as plaster or fiberglass, and are custom-fitted to the shape and size of the injured limb. Casts are typically worn for several weeks to allow for complete healing of the growth plate fracture.

During this time, regular check-ups with the healthcare provider are essential to monitor the progress of healing and ensure the proper positioning of the cast. 4.

Surgical Treatment (Open Reduction and Internal Fixation)

In some cases, growth plate fractures require more extensive intervention through surgical treatment. Surgical treatment is often recommended for fractures that are severely displaced or cannot be realigned adequately through closed reduction.

4.1 Open Reduction

Open reduction involves surgically accessing the fracture site and directly manipulating the bones back into their correct position. During the procedure, any fragments or debris present in the growth plate area are carefully removed.

Once the bones are properly aligned, they are held in place using various fixation devices, such as screws, pins, or plates. This technique allows for precise alignment of the bones and provides stability during the healing process.

4.2 Internal Fixation

Internal fixation refers to the use of implants, such as screws or metal plates, to hold the fractured bones in place. These implants are positioned internally, close to or on the surface of the bone, and provide stability and support during the healing process.

Internal fixation is often used in combination with open reduction to ensure proper alignment and healing of the growth plate fracture. During the surgical procedure, the healthcare team will take into consideration factors such as the age of the child, the severity of the fracture, and the specific growth plate involved to determine the most appropriate surgical technique.

Following surgery, the child will need to undergo a period of immobilization and may require physical therapy to regain strength and range of motion. 5.

Complications of Growth Plate Fractures

While most growth plate fractures heal well with proper treatment, there can be potential complications associated with these injuries. It is crucial for parents and caregivers to be aware of these complications and seek medical attention if they are suspected.

5.1 Early Closure of Growth Plate

One of the most significant concerns with growth plate fractures is the potential for the premature closure of the growth plate. If a growth plate fracture is not appropriately managed, it can disrupt the normal growth of the bone.

This can result in a partial or complete closure of the growth plate, leading to deformities that may affect limb length or cause angular deformities. 5.2 Other Complications

In addition to the risk of early growth plate closure, there are other potential complications that may arise from growth plate fractures.

These include:

– Delayed Healing: Some fractures may take longer than expected to heal, particularly if the blood supply to the growth plate is compromised. Close monitoring and follow-up with healthcare providers are crucial to ensure proper healing.

– Nonhealing: In rare cases, some growth plate fractures may fail to heal completely, leading to persistent pain and impairment. These cases may require further intervention, such as bone grafting or additional surgery.

– Infection: Any fracture carries a risk of infection, and growth plate fractures are no exception. Infection can delay healing and may require antibiotic treatment or surgical intervention to control.

– Loss of Blood Flow: Severe growth plate fractures can disrupt the blood supply to the growth plate area. Without proper blood flow, the bone can become necrotic, leading to bone death or avascular necrosis.

Timely diagnosis and intervention are essential to minimize the risk of this complication.


In conclusion, growth plate fractures require prompt and appropriate treatment to ensure proper healing and prevent long-term complications. Non-surgical treatment methods, such as splints and casts, are often effective in stabilizing the fracture and supporting healing.

In more severe cases, surgical intervention through open reduction and internal fixation may be necessary to restore alignment and provide stability. However, despite proper treatment, there can be potential complications associated with growth plate fractures, emphasizing the importance of close monitoring and follow-up care.

By understanding the treatment options and potential complications, parents, caregivers, and healthcare providers can work together to provide the best care for children with growth plate fractures. In conclusion, understanding growth plate fractures is crucial for ensuring proper treatment and preventing long-term complications in children and adolescents.

Non-surgical methods, such as splints and casts, can effectively stabilize fractures, while more severe cases may require surgical intervention through open reduction and internal fixation. It is important to be aware of potential complications, including early closure of the growth plate and other issues such as delayed healing, infection, and loss of blood flow.

By recognizing the importance of prompt and appropriate treatment and being vigilant for potential complications, parents, caregivers, and healthcare providers can work together to ensure the best possible outcomes for children with growth plate fractures. Ultimately, the key takeaway is that early diagnosis, proper treatment, and diligent follow-up care are vital in promoting optimal healing and minimizing long-term effects on growth and development.

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