Fractures in Children
What is a fracture?
A fracture is a partial or complete break in the bone. When a fracture happens, it
is classified as either open or closed:
Open fracture (also called compound fracture). The bone exits and is visible through the skin, or a deep wound that exposes the bone
through the skin.
Closed fracture (also called simple fracture). The bone is broken, but the skin is intact.
Fractures have a variety of names. Below is a listing of the common types that may
happen in children:
What causes a fracture?
Fractures happen when there is more force applied to the bone than the bone can absorb.
Bones are weakest when they are twisted.
Breaks in bones can happen from falls, trauma, or as a result of a direct blow or
kick to the body.
A child's bone differs from adult bone in a variety of ways:
A child's bone heals much faster than an adult's bone. The younger the child, the
faster the healing happens.
Bones are softer in children and tend to buckle or bend rather than completely break.
Children have open growth plates located at the end of the long bones. This is an
area where the bone grows. Injury to the growth plate can lead to limb length discrepancies
or angular deformities.
What are the symptoms of a fracture?
The following are the most common symptoms of a fracture. However, each child may
experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:
Pain in the injured area
Swelling in the injured area
Obvious deformity in the injured area
Difficulty using or moving the injured area in a normal manner
Warmth, bruising, or redness in the injured area
The symptoms of a broken bone may resemble other conditions. Always talk with your
child's healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
How is a fracture diagnosed?
The healthcare provider makes the diagnosis with physical exam and diagnostic tests.
During the exam the healthcare provider obtains a complete medical history of the
child and asks how the injury happened.
Diagnostic procedures may include:
X-rays. A diagnostic test that uses invisible electromagnetic energy beams to produce images
of internal tissues, bones, and organs onto film.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). A diagnostic procedure that uses a combination of large magnets, radiofrequencies,
and a computer to produce detailed images of organs and structures within the body.
This test is done to rule out any associated abnormalities of the spinal cord and
Computed tomography scan (also called a CT or CAT scan). This is an imaging test that uses X-rays and a computer to make detailed images of
the body. A CT scan shows details of the bones, muscles, fat, and organs. CT scans
are more detailed than general X-rays.
Treatment for a fracture
Specific treatment for a fracture will be discussed with you by your child's healthcare
provider based on:
Your child's age, overall health, and medical history
Extent of the fracture
Your child's tolerance for specific medicines, procedures, or therapies
Expectations for the course of the fracture
Your opinion or preference
The goal of treatment is to control the pain, promote healing, prevent complications,
and restore normal use of the fractured area.
An open fracture (one in which the bone exits and is visible through the skin, or
where a deep wound exposes the bone through the skin) is considered an emergency.
Seek immediate medical attention for this type of fracture by calling 911.
Treatment may include:
Splint or cast. This immobilizes the injured area to promote bone alignment and healing to protect
the injured area from motion or use.
Medicine (for pain control)
Traction. Traction is the application of a force to stretch certain parts of the body in a specific
direction. Traction consists or pulleys, strings, weights, and a metal frame attached
over or on the bed. The purpose of traction is to stretch the muscles and tendons
around the broken bone to allow the bone ends to align and heal.
Surgery. This may be needed to put certain types of broken bones back into place. Occasionally,
internal fixation (metal rods or pins located inside the bone) or external fixation
devices (metal rods or pins located outside of the body) are used to hold the bone
fragments in place to allow alignment and healing.