Common Conditions

Fractures in Children

What is a fracture in a child?

A fracture is a partial or complete break in the bone. When a fracture happens, it is classified as either open or closed:

  • Open (compound) fracture. The bone breaks through the skin. Or the skin has a deep wound that exposes the bone.
  • Closed (simple) fracture. The bone is broken, but there is no wound in the skin.

What causes a fracture in a child?

Fractures happen when more force is applied to the bone than the bone can absorb. Bones are weakest when they are twisted. Breaks in bones can happen from falls or trauma, or as a result of a direct hit to the body.

What are the symptoms of a fracture in a child?

Symptoms can occur a bit differently in each child. But below are the most common symptoms a child will have if he or she breaks a bone:

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Obvious deformity of the bone
  • Trouble using or moving the bone in a normal manner
  • Warmth, bruising, or redness

These symptoms may seem like other health problems. Make sure your child sees his or her healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

How is a fracture diagnosed in a child?

Your child’s healthcare provider makes the diagnosis with an exam and diagnostic tests. During the exam, he or she asks about your child’s health history and how the injury happened.

Your child may also need:

  • X-rays. This test makes images of internal tissues, bones, and organs.
  • MRI. This test uses a combination of large magnets, radiofrequencies, and a computer to make detailed images of organs and structures within the body. It’s done to rule out any related abnormalities of the spinal cord and nerves.
  • CT scan. This test 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.

How is a fracture treated in a child?

Treatment will depend on your child’s symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend on how severe the condition is.

An open fracture is an emergency. This is when the bone breaks through the skin. Or when the skin has a deep wound that exposes the bone. Call 911 to get medical care right away.

The goal of treatment is to control the pain, help the bone heal, and prevent complications so your child can use the fractured area again normally. Treatment may include:

  • Splint or cast. This keeps the broken bone in place while it heals.
  • Medicine. Certain medicines can ease pain.
  • Traction. This treatment gently stretches the muscles and tendons around the broken bone to allow the bone ends to align and heal. It uses pulleys, strings, weights, and a metal frame attached over or on the bed.
  • Surgery. Your child may need surgery to put certain types of broken bones back into place. Sometimes the surgeon puts metal rods or pins inside the bone or outside the body to hold the bone pieces in place. This helps them heal in the correct position.

Key points about a fracture in a child

  • A fracture is a partial or complete break in the bone.
  • A fracture happens when more force is applied to the bone than the bone can absorb. It can happen from falls or injury, or as a result of a direct hit to the body.
  • A child with a broken bone may have pain, swelling, and trouble moving the injured area.
  • Treatment may include a cast or splint, pain medicine, or surgery.

Next steps

Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your child’s healthcare provider:

  • Know the reason for the visit and what you want to happen.
  • Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
  • At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis, and any new medicines, treatments, or tests. Also write down any new instructions your provider gives you for your child.
  • Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed and how it will help your child. Also know what the side effects are.
  • Ask if your child’s condition can be treated in other ways.
  • Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could mean.
  • Know what to expect if your child does not take the medicine or have the test or procedure.
  • If your child has a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that visit.
  • Know how you can contact your child’s provider after office hours. This is important if your child becomes ill and you have questions or need advice.
Online Source: Forearm Fractures in Children, American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeonshttp://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=a00039
Online Source: Growth Plate Fractures, American Academy of Orthpaedic Surgeonshttp://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00040
Online Source: Osteoporosis and Spinal Fractures, American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeonshttp://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00538
Online Source: Fractures (Broken Bones), American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeonshttp://www.orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00139
Author: Semko, Laura
Online Editor: Sinovic, Dianna
Online Editor: Tchang, Kimberly
Online Medical Reviewer: Moloney, Amanda Jane (Johns), PA-C, MPAS, BBA
Online Medical Reviewer: Thomas, Joseph N, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Turley, Ray, BSN, MSN
Date Last Reviewed: 11/1/2016
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