A fracture is a partial or complete break in the bone. It occurs when a bone is subjected to more force than it can absorb – typically from a fall, or trauma, or a direct blow to the body.
Fractures vary from mild cases where surgical treatment is not required to more serious cases where it is. The good news is that fractures in children tend to heal fast. The younger your child, the faster healing will occur. That’s because children’s bones are still growing, which makes them softer and more flexible. Their bones will buckle or bend before completely breaking.
Still, forces applied to bones can be too strong, and the bones will indeed sometimes break, requiring medical treatment. At the Children’s Health, our pediatric orthopedic specialists have extensive training to diagnose and treat bone fractures with advanced, effective techniques that support your child’s skeletal growth and development.
Fractures occur when more force is applied to the bone than it can absorb. Fractures are typically caused by falls or trauma, or a direct hit to the body.
Most fractures in children are incomplete fractures, with the bone cracking or only partially breaking. Incomplete fractures include:
Buckle or torus fracture: Also know as an impacted fracture, it involves one side of the bone buckling on itself without breaking the other side.
Greenstick fracture: The bone is bent, with a crack on one side but intact on the other – similar to how a stick from a tree branch looks when you try to bend and break it.
As bones mature, complete bone fractures — where the bone breaks into two or more pieces — are more likely. Complete fractures include:
Closed fracture (simple fracture): The bone breaks clean but doesn’t damage surrounding tissue or puncture the skin. Simple fractures can usually be treated with nonsurgical procedures such as realigning and casting. Some types of simple fractures:
Oblique – A diagonal break across the bone
Transverse – A straight-line break across a bone
Spiral – The breakage spirals around the bone (often from a twisting injury)
Open fracture (complex fracture): The bone breaks — sometimes into fragments— and damages the surrounding tissue, with possible tears through the skin. Complex fractures are more serious and may require surgery.
Non-displaced fracture: The broken bone segments line up easily.
Displaced fracture: The broken bone pieces are out of alignment and may require surgery to realign.
Other common pediatric fracture types include:
Growth plate fracture: Growth plates are the areas in children’s bones where growth happens. These areas are weak and more likely to fracture. Our physicians are extensively trained to treat growth plate fractures, ensuring that your child’s injured bone continues to grow and develop normally. Learn more about growth plate injuries.
Stress fracture (hairline fracture): Tiny, hairline cracks form in the bone, usually caused by overuse or repetitive force in sports such as track and field or cross country running.
Compression fracture – Where the bone is crushed, causing the broken portion to be wider or flatter in appearance
Comminuted fracture: The bone breaks into several pieces, often requiring surgery.
The most common fracture symptoms include pain and/or swelling and obvious deformation in the injured area (accompanied by warmth, bruising or redness), and difficulty using or moving the injured area in normal fashion.
Fracture risks increase during adolescence, with the arms being the most common fracture location. Risk factors for fractures include:
Age: As teens approach adulthood, their risk for fractures increases.
Gender: Boys are more likely than girls to break bones.
Poor nutrition, including lack of calcium
Previous history of fractures
Common fracture symptoms include:
Difficulty using, moving or bearing weight on the injured area
Deformity in the injured area such as the bone puncturing the skin
At Children’s Health, our orthopedic physicians will examine your child, assess pain and use imaging to diagnose the problem. Our physicians use the latest in diagnostic technology to develop a comprehensive treatment plan which can often diagnose a fracture with just a physical exam and an X-ray.
Diagnostic testing may include:
X-ray: Uses invisible electromagnetic energy beams to take detailed images of bones
CT (computed tomography) scan: Uses X-rays to make detailed images of the injured area
MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan: Uses magnetic fields and radio waves to take detailed pictures of the injured area
Bone scans: Uses a small amount of radioactive substance to make detailed images of the affected bones
At Children’s Health, our treatment goals for your child include controlling pain, promoting the healing process, preventing complications and restoring the normal use of the fractured area.
We offer the full range of treatments for fractures. After diagnosis, your physician will consult with you and then recommend the best approach for your child. Treatment options depend on the nature of the fracture and your child’s age and skeletal development.
Treatment options may include:
Medication: To help manage pain and prevent infection
Splints: Used for minor fractures where the bone needs minimal support to heal
Casts: Used when immobilization is needed for healing and recovery, and are typically made of plaster or fiberglass and can be waterproof
Closed Reduction: Non-surgical procedure for displaced fractures that manually realigns the bones
Surgery: For complex fractures that require metal rods or pins to hold bone fragments in place
Will my child have to stay in the hospital overnight after getting treated for a fracture?
An overnight stay is usually not required. If your child has a serious fracture that requires surgery, we may recommend an overnight stay.
How quickly will my child’s fracture heal?
It depends on the severity of the fracture. The good news is children’s bone fractures heal quickly because their growing bones are rapidly generating new tissue. As children age into their teenage years, though, the speed of healing starts to slow down.
How are broken bones prevented?
Broken bones are a common pediatric injury because parts of children’s bones called growth plates are weak as they grow. However, you can help your child build strong and healthy bones by encouraging a diet high in calcium and vitamin D.