Breaking down the facts about fractures

Learn all about fractures in children.

Thousands of children, adolescents and young adults come through the doors of Boston Children’s Hospital’s Orthopedic Center every year with the same diagnosis – fracture. Whether on the wrist or the ankle or anywhere in between, a fracture can be painful and restricting to an active child or teen.

What is a fracture?

A fracture is a bone that is partially or completely broken. There are two types of fractures:

  1. A complete fracture is when a bone is broken into two or more pieces.
  2. An incomplete fracture is when a bone is cracked or partially broken. Incomplete fractures are more common during childhood, because a child’s growing bones are bendable and resilient, which means they tend to buckle or bend a lot before breaking.

WGrowth plate fractures in children.hat are growth plate fractures?

Children and adolescents have open-growth plates (areas of growing tissue from which bone grows) at each end of their long bones. Injuries to these growth plates account for 15-30% of all childhood fractures and usually heal without any problems.

But occasionally they can result in limb-length discrepancies or angular deformities. With growth plate fractures, explains Boston Children’s Hospital’s Orthopedic Surgeon-in-Chief, Dr. Peter Waters, “A child should be followed by an orthopedist to make sure the bone is growing properly after the fracture heals.”

Did you know? About 30% of growth plate fractures occur during participation in competitive sports such as football, gymnastics and basketball. Another 20% happen during recreational activities such as skateboarding, trampolining and snowboarding.

Why do fractures happen?

Fractures happen when there’s more force applied to the bone than the bone can withstand. Most fractures result from mild to moderate trauma during physical activity. Arms (forearms and elbows) are the most common fractures in children.

What can I do to prevent a fracture?

It’s important for kids to be active and play, and falls are just part of the game. The best thing you can do to prevent a fracture is to make sure your child receives proper training and wears protective equipment. When playing a sport, be aware of the risk factors for fracture, such as poor nutrition, including lack of calcium in the diet; obesity; and a previous history of fractures.

The good news is that children are resilient and heal much faster than adults. Even if the injury seems minor, it’s always important to have your child seen by a pediatric caregiver. Not treated properly, a fracture can lead to permanent problems with the bone and with growth.

Our Orthopedic Urgent Care Clinic is a daily clinic in Boston, Peabody, Waltham and Weymouth dedicated to seeing children and adolescents with injuries and musculoskeletal (bone, muscle and soft tissue) problems not serious enough for the Emergency Department yet require prompt evaluation. 

Learn more about the Orthopedic Urgent Care Clinic at Boston Children’s.