Active kids run headlong into everything they do — sports, skateboarding, climbing, trampolines, other kids. And sometimes, they have the broken bones to prove it.
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For many reasons, it’s important to get any fractures treated quickly by a doctor who specializes in a child’s growing bones.
Most straightforward fractures heal well. But, since young bones are fragile and growing, a fracture can cause problems as your child grows, says pediatric orthopedic surgeon David Gurd, MD.
Children’s growth plates (cartilage discs at the ends of long bones) allow all parts of the skeleton and body to grow, including arms, legs, hands and feet. When bone growth is complete — around age 14 for girls and 16 for boys — those plates become solid bone.
Any injury to the growth plates requires careful diagnosis and treatment by a pediatric orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Gurd says.
“We have to treat a fracture going through the growth plate correctly to make sure we don’t run into problems down the road,” he says. “As pediatric orthopedic surgeons, we understand the problems an injury can cause, as well as problems that can stem from not treating it properly.”
Fractures common among kids
Some kid fractures require surgery to stabilize growing bones. Most can be treated with immobilization or casting. (A cast or a metal pin through the skin across the fracture enhances stability.) Others need a reduction (realignment) and casting. A few will require surgical intervention.
“Kids heal so nicely and so quickly that oftentimes, we don’t have to do a big incision along with plate and screws,” Dr. Gurd says.
Youth sports participation is a source of many broken bones. Basketball, soccer, gymnastics, lacrosse, hockey and football are some of the common sports that can cause injuries.
Fractures tend to affect the following:
- Clavicle (collarbone).
- Humerus (long bone in upper arm).
- Radius (thicker, shorter of two bones in the forearm).
- Femur (upper bone above the knee).
- Tibia (bone below the knee).
“Kids are doing more high-level sports, and a lot of sporting injuries end up with fractures,” he says.
Of course, your child doesn’t have to play sports to break a bone. Just plain playing can do it.
The most common fractures not related to sports are broken wrists and fractures slightly above the elbow — primarily from falling off the monkey bars, Dr. Gurd says.
Same-day fracture care for kids
The need to address children’s urgent injuries right away spurred Cleveland Clinic to create a same-day treatment program for children’s fractures.
“We know how hard it is to be able to get your child in to get urgent and appropriate care,” says Dr. Gurd.
So, the program includes a team of pediatric specialists who cover a full range of orthopedic needs — fracture care, scoliosis management, deformity correction, and sports injury care.
“Oftentimes, we can see the families in the region where they live and keep them close to home so they don’t have to travel so much,” he says. “It’s a nice thing to have. We do everything in our power to get the child in that day to assess and give the appropriate treatment.”
Tips for preventing injuries
As a parent, you may feel like you’re always walking a tightrope — that fine line of allowing your child to stay as active as possible without overdoing it.
Sports are the perfect example, Dr. Gurd says.
“Any sport you’re involved in has a risk of injury,” he says. “Does that mean we would advocate not playing sports? No, the life lessons you learn playing sports outweigh the risk of possible injury.”
So, how can you keep your kids safer? Dr. Gurd recommends:
- Proper training.
- Proper conditioning.
- Good core strengthening.
- Warming up before playing sports.
- Avoiding risky activities (jumping on a trampoline, for instance).
“Stay close to your kids as they’re playing,” he says. “Keep a close eye on them. Make sure they’re doing activities they’re able to do.”
And, his final tip: Try to cushion their fall even when you aren’t there to catch them. “A soft substance on the ground around a playground or monkey bars is a really good idea.”