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.