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Kids running in field

Why pediatric experts are best equipped to treat growth plate fractures in children

Hopefully your child has made it through an active summer without too many bumps and bruises. The past few months have been a busy time for us as pediatric orthopedic specialists, treating kids who have rolled an ankle, sprained a ligament or (in most cases) broken a bone. And now, going into the fall sports season, more young athletes are probably going to be in need of our services.

When seeking treatment for your child, it’s important to remember that kids aren’t just little adults. Their bodies are still growing and changing, so they should be seen by a specialist with the advanced training and expertise necessary to help them heal the right way.

For instance, many people aren’t aware that up until age 16, kids and teens have what are known as growth plates that sit at the ends of their bones throughout the body. What might be a pulled muscle or sprained ligament in an adult could actually result in a fracture or other serious injury in a child whose bones are still growing.

It’s possible that a medical provider who doesn’t often work with kids might not be looking for growth plate injuries, which could mean they won’t heal properly. If this happens, then what should be a temporary condition could turn into a long-term problem. The bone can either begin to grow too fast or have its growth stopped too soon. Unfortunately, I have seen instances where a child has a deformed joint that was caused by improper treatment.

Growth plates 101

Fractures that involve growth plates can be the result of a single event, such as a fall, or from repetitive stress on the bone. These types of overuse injuries are happening more and more often with young athletes as they become more specialized and play longer seasons.

Here are some facts about growth-plate injuries from the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons:

  • Growth plate fractures occur twice as often in boys, because girls finish growing earlier
  • One-third of all growth plate fractures in the U.S. are sports-related injuries
  • Growth plate fractures occur most often during adolescence

Sometimes a fracture is detectable visibly through a misshapen or crooked appearance of a limb, but here are some other symptoms to watch for:

  • Inability to move or put pressure on the limb
  • Swelling, heat and tenderness around the end of the bone, near the joint
  • Unable to move the limb


Whenever there is an injury, and it’s not an emergency situation, help treat it through the RICE method.


Do this for at least the first day or two, and if you notice swelling, discoloration, or a limp, have the injury evaluated. Most injuries will heal just fine, but sometimes extra attention is needed. And with growth plates, getting the right care can make sure your young athlete can stay in the game.