If you’ve ever taken your child to the ER for a broken bone, you may have heard the doctor mention the possibility of a growth plate fracture. What are growth plates? They are areas of soft tissue at the ends of your child's long bones. They are found in many places, including the thigh, forearm, and hand.
Only children have growth plates because they are still developing. Once your child stops growing, the plates turn into bone. This typically happens around age 20.
Because the growth plates are soft, they're easily injured. When that happens it's called a "growth plate fracture."
These kinds of injuries usually heal easily, however, there can be complications if they are not treated correctly or the injury is severe.
Some complications can produce what is called “growth arrest.” That is when the injury causes his or her bone to stop growing. A child may end up with one leg or arm shorter than the other.
Your child's likely to get crooked legs or one leg shorter than the other if his growth plates were damaged at his knee. That's because there are a lot of nerves and blood vessels in that area that can be hurt along with the growth plate.
Sometimes, a growth plate fracture can also cause the bone to grow more, but this has the same result: One limb ends up longer than the other.
A less common problem is when a ridge develops along the fracture line. This can also interfere with the bone's growth or cause it to curve.
If the bone is sticking out of the skin, there's also a chance of infection, which can damage the growth plate even more.
Younger children are more likely to get complications because their bones still have a lot of growing to do. But one benefit is that younger bones tend to heal better.
There are treatments for growth plate injuries. If the fracture isn’t severe and the bone is still lined up correctly, your child's doctor might just put on a cast, splint, or brace. Your child won't be able to move his limb that way, which gives the growth plate time and space to heal.
What if the bones are not lined up correctly? Your child’s doctor will have to get them back in alignment by what is called “reduction.” Sometimes a doctor can line the bones back up by hand and sometimes it requires surgery.
If by hand, the doctor moves the bones back in line with his hands and not by cutting the skin. This is called "manipulation" and can be done in the emergency room or an operating room. Your child will get pain medication so he doesn't feel anything.
If your child needs surgery, It gets a little more complicated and takes anywhere from a couple weeks to a couple of months to heal. During surgery, the doctor cuts into the skin, puts the bones back in line, and puts in screws, wires, rods, pins, or metal plates to hold the pieces together. Your child will have to wear a cast until the bones heal.
If a ridge forms at the fracture line, your child's doctor may recommend surgery to remove the ridge. He can then pad the area with fat or another material to keep it from growing back.
Most of the time, kids get back to normal after a growth plate fracture without any lasting effects. One exception is if the growth plate is crushed. When that happens, the bone will almost always grow differently.
Once the injury has healed, your doctor may suggest exercises to strengthen the injured area.
Some children may need a second surgery called reconstructive surgery if the injury is serious enough.
If your child suffers a growth plate injury, he or she should have follow-up appointments for at least a year. Once your doctor gives the OK, your child will be able to get back to the kinds of activities he or she enjoys.
Story source: Hansa D. Bhargava, MD, http://www.webmd.com/children/child-bone-fracture-16/growth-plate-fracture