What are growth plate injuries?
The growth plate is the area of tissue near the ends of long bones in children and teens that determines what length and shape the bone will be once it is done growing. Each long bone— the thigh bone, the bones in the forearm, and the bones in the hands and fingers—has at least two growth plates, one at each end. Once your child has finished growing, the growth plates close and are replaced by solid bone.
The growth plates are weak areas of your child’s growing skeleton, making it easier to injure them. Injuries to the growth plate (fractures) can result from a single traumatic event, such as a fall or car accident, or from overuse.
Who gets growth plate injuries?
Because the growth plate is the last area of bone to harden during growth, children and teens may be more likely to have growth plate fractures or injuries.
The following factors may increase the chance that your child or teen may injure or fracture their growth plate:
- Sex. Growth plate fractures occur more often in boys than in girls.
- Competitive sports. Growth plate injuries often occur in children and teens who take part in competitive sports or activities that increase the risk to fall or be hit.
- Repetitive use. Focusing on one sport and overusing certain limbs or areas of the body before puberty finishes can lead to growth plate injuries.
What are the types of growth plate injuries?
Doctors divide most growth plate injuries and fractures into six types. The type of injury will help your doctor determine the best treatment for your child.
What are the symptoms of growth plate injuries?
Symptoms of a growth plate injury include:
- Continued pain and tenderness after a sudden or overuse injury. You may notice that your child limits the amount of time playing after a prior injury.
- Change in shape, warmth, or swelling at the end of a bone.
- Changes in how your child bends their limb.
- Lack of ability to move, put pressure on, or bear weight on a limb because of pain.
What causes growth plate injuries?
Growth plate injuries can happen after:
- A sudden accident, such as a blow or falling down
- Injuries from competitive sports or recreational activities.
- Overuse of a certain part of the body, as seen with baseball pitchers or long-distance runners.
- Rarely, a medical disorder that can change their normal growth and development.
Is there a test for growth plate injuries?
Doctors figure out if your child has a growth plate injury by:
- Asking about the pain and injury, including when the pain started and how the injury happened.
- Checking the injured area for tenderness, swelling, and change of shape.
- Ordering x-rays or other imaging tests.
How are growth plate injuries treated?
Treatment for growth plate injuries depends on the type of injury. Treatment should start as soon as possible after injury and generally involves one or more of the following treatments.
- If necessary, the doctor sets and aligns the bones either with their hands or through a surgical procedure.
- The need for surgery depends on the location and extent of the injury, its effect on nearby nerves and blood vessels, and your child’s age.
- After the bones are aligned, the doctor puts on a cast or splint.
Your child should limit any activity that puts pressure on the injured area.
Growth plate injuries can interrupt the normal growth of the bone. For example, the bone may be crooked or slightly longer or shorter than it should be. Your doctor may recommend follow-up visits to check the bone for any changes in growth and development.
With treatment as soon as possible after the injury, most children and teens recover without growth problems. How soon your child can return to regular activities and sports depends on their recovery and the type of activity.
After the injury has healed, your child’s doctor may recommend exercises to strengthen the muscles that support the injured area of the bone. Strengthening can help your child ability move the joint in the way that it should.
Who treats growth plate injuries?
The following health care providers may help diagnose and treat growth plate injuries:
- Orthopaedists, who treat and perform surgery for bone and joint diseases.
- Occupational therapists, who teach ways to protect joints and perform activities of daily living.
- Pediatricians, who diagnose and treat children.
- Physical therapists, who specialize in movement and strengthening muscles.
- Sports medicine physicians, who treat musculoskeletal injuries from participation in sports.