Sports Medicine: Growth Pate Fractures
What is a growth plate fracture?
A growth plate (physis or epiphyseal plate) is the area at the end of long bones in children and adolescents that allows bones to grow. The ‘plate’ refers to a zone of cartilage cells within the bone that produces new cells that add length to the bone. Injuries around the growth plate can result in separation of the bone at the growth plate, fractures of the bone across the growth plate or crushing of the growth plate.
The growth plate is not as strong as the rest of the bone and is more likely to be injured than the surrounding calcified bone. Fractures of the growth plates need to be closely managed by an orthopedic physician in order to minimize and treat long term effects involving bone growth.
What causes a growth plate fracture?
Growth plate injuries can be caused by a sudden event (i.e. a fall) causing a fracture or can happen over time through repetitive stresses (i.e. pitching), causing separation or compression.
What are the symptoms of a growth plate fracture?
Symptoms of a growth plate fracture are similar to other fractures and include:
- Visible deformity
- Inability to move the injured area
- Inability to put pressure or bear weight
- Athlete may feel or hear a “pop”
How is a growth plate fracture diagnosed?
A physician can review x-rays of the painful area to diagnose a growth plate fracture. It is important to see an orthopedic provider to ensure that the fracture is properly managed in a young and growing athlete.
What is the treatment for a growth plate fracture?
The treatment depends on the severity of the injury. In simple cases, casting or splinting may be done to support and stabilize the fracture area. Complex fractures may require surgery to provide the best possibility for future bone growth.
What is the long term outlook for a growth plate fracture?
With proper treatment, the outcome of most growth plate fractures is normal growth and full return to activity. In some cases, despite best treatment, permanent damage to the growth plate may result in abnormal growth of the bone. In these instances, future surgery may be required to treat the growth problem and minimize long term functional issues.
Children and adolescents heal at a faster rate than adults, so it is important not to ignore the symptoms of a growth plate fracture. Prompt evaluation by the orthopedic provider will allow treatment to minimize long term effects of growth plate injuries.