A growth plate fracture is a crack or split in or through the growth plate of a bone. Growth plates are softer areas of the bone that are made of cartilage. They occur at both ends of the bone to allow growth through childhood. The area hardens once bones are fully mature.
There are 5 types based on what parts of the bone are fractured:
- Type 1—fracture passes straight through the growth plate and separates the end of the bone from the shaft of the bone
- Type 2—fracture passes through the growth plate and the shaft of the bone
- Type 3—fracture passes through the growth plate and breaks off a piece of the bone
- Type 4—fracture passes through the shaft, the growth plate, and the end of the bone
- Type 5—compression (crushing) fracture of the growth plate
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Growth plate fractures are the result of a trauma to the bone.
These fractures can only occur in growing children.
Activities that are most often associated with growth plate fractures include:
- Competitive sports such as basketball, football, or volleyball
- Recreational activities such as skiing or skateboarding
The injury can also occur during a motor vehicle accident.
Symptoms can vary depending on the location and severity of the fracture. About one-third of growth plate fractures happen in the long bones of the fingers. Other common areas include the bones in the forearm and lower legs.
Symptoms but may include:
- Swelling and bruising—may be mistaken for a sprain
- Visible deformity
- Persistent or severe pain in the area
- Difficulty walking or using the affected area
- Difficulty returning to a sport
Rarely, these fractures can interfere with bone growth, though the risk depends on the fracture type..
You will be asked about your child’s symptoms and medical history. The area will be examined by the doctor.
Images of the bone may be taken with:
The goal of treatment is to make sure the bone heals properly and can continue to grow. Treatments may include:
A cast or splint is often used to keep the bone in place while the fracture heals. They will also provide support and decrease pressure on the area to prevent further damage.
Surgery may be needed to help line up and stabilize the bone. Surgery may include placing pins and screws in the bone to keep it in place.
Rarely, bone growth is impaired or stimulated by this type of fracture. Surgery may be needed to correct the growth problems.
It may be several months or years before growth problems develop. Your doctor will monitor your child’s growth progress until the bones reach maturity.
To help prevent fractures, encourage your child to:
- Wear proper padding and safety equipment when participating in sports or activities.
- Learn the proper technique for exercise and sporting activities.
- Take a break from sports or exercise when feeling tired.
Fractures. Boston Children’s Hospital website. Available at: http://www.childrenshospital.org/az/Site927/mainpageS927P1.html. Accessed September 29, 2014.
Growth Plate Fractures. American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons website. Available at: http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00040. Updated January 2010. Accessed September 29, 2014.
When your child needs a cast. Kids Health—Nemours Foundation website. Available at: http://kidshealth.org/parent/system/med_procedures/casts.html. Updated October 2012. Accessed September 29, 2014.
Last reviewed August 2014 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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