Bone Fractures in Children – Honest, Expert Advice

By: Helen Bolstad

March 02, 2021

Little boy and girl drawing on his leg cast

Michael Elliott, MD, head of the Department of Pediatric Orthopedics and Scoliosis, answers some common questions about bone fractures.

Is there a difference between broken bones and fractures?

No, these are two different names for the same injury. Of course the common term is a broken bone. Using either name will describe your concerns. Medical personnel typically describe a broken bone as a fracture to a specific bone. For example, a broken wrist is also a fractured distal radius. To clarify, this describes the injured bone and the precise location.

How do I know  if my child has broken their bone?

Many times children will fall and complain of their arm or leg hurting. In most cases the pain goes away and the child will return to their activities. When there is a deformity to the limb (curve in arm) and the child is complaining of pain, it is probably a fracture. If the arm or leg looks straight, look to see if there is any swelling or bruising. Both are signs of a possible fracture. Finally, if the limb looks normal but the child continues to complain, gently push on the bone. Likewise if it causes the same pain, then they likely have a fracture and should have an x-ray.

My child fractured their growth plate, what does this mean?

Growth comes from this area of the bone. In detail, these are located all over the body but typically at the end of the bones. With this in mind, fractures to these areas can result in the bone growing abnormally. Because of potential shortening of the arm or leg, or bones growing crooked, it is important to follow fractures closely (up to 1-2 years or longer). It is better to identify a problem early. Small problems can be treated with small surgeries.

What if the bones of the x-ray do not line up?

Because children are growing, unlike adults, their bones will remodel and straighten with growth. The amount of remodeling occurring depends on a child’s age, the bone fractured and the location. In many cases an angled bone will grow straight over the course of a year. For this reason, someone with experience in caring for children needs to follow bone growth.

How long does it take fractures to heal?

Factors deciding when a cast can come off include:
  • Child’s age.
  • Bone fractured.
  • Fracture location.
Young children heal faster than teens, teens heal faster than young adults, who heal faster than older adults. In young children most fractures heal in 4-6 weeks. However, teens generally take 6 weeks to heal, and adults can take much longer. Although your child  is out of their cast, it may not be healed completely to return to all activities. Placing a splint is during this time is common. This typically gives them added protection for several weeks after their cast is removed -  in case they forget their limitations.

What if my child is still limping?

Whether a child is in a walking or non-weight bearing cast, removing it often leaves them stiff and sore. Therefore many children will walk as though they still have a cast in place. In most cases this resolves in about three weeks. Regardless, if your child is still limping or walking abnormally after three weeks, contact the treating doctor. They may benefit from physical therapy or a repeat evaluation.

 (This article was original published in the July 2019 issue of South Reno Kids & Sports.)


    • Previous Article

    What Is the Role of a Child Life Specialist?

    What is the role of the child life specialist? Here are common questions and answers about how these special individuals give both parents and kids peace of mind. Let’s face it: A hospital can be an intimidating place for just about...
    Read More
    • Next Article

    Reno Pediatric Scoliosis Expert Gives New Hope to Young Girl

    For Michael J. Elliott, MD , a pediatric orthopedic surgeon specializing in scoliosis, it’s just another day helping patients. But to local five-year-old Makenna Christensen, her substantial spine correction is life-changing. Though her...
    Read More