How to spot a fracture

If you think your child has a fracture, we're here to help. Our team treats more kids with broken bones than anyone in Georgia.*

A fracture is a break in the bone.

  • The fracture is called “displaced” if pieces of the bone bend or move out of proper position.
  • The fracture is called “non-displaced” if the bones stay in place.

Here are some common signs of a broken bone:

  • Pain
  • Swelling and/or deformity
  • Inability to move or put weight on the affected area

Your child may be able to use his hand, arm, foot or leg even though he or she has a fracture. This makes it hard to tell if your child has a muscle sprain or strain or a fracture. The only way to tell for sure is by having a medical exam and X-rays.

Our Urgent Care Centers and the emergency departments at our Scottish Rite and Egleston hospitals have fast access to pediatric orthopaedic surgeons who understand how to treat growing bones.

Locate a Children's Emergency Department near you

Locate a Children's Urgent Care Center near you

*Georgia Hospital Association (GHA) data 2016

How we diagnose a fracture

Not all breaks are easy to spot. Our board-certified pediatric radiologists are trained to quickly and accurately diagnose injured bones.

Our team uses X-rays to help diagnose broken bones. We follow Image Gently guidelines, which means we are able to reduce your child's exposure to radiation during X-ray procedures.

  • Children's bones are still growing, so there is more cartilage.
  • Because cartilage is not as dense as bone, it can make a child's X-ray look incomplete, like there are gaps in the bones and joints.
  • These gaps are where the growth plates are located, so it's important to have board-certified pediatric radiologists and pediatric orthopaedic surgeons who specialize in recognizing and treating broken bones in growing kids and teens.

Not every fracture shows up on X-ray, especially nondisplaced fractures. Children can have broken bones and yet have normal X-rays. It is hard to see a fracture if it occurs on the bone's growth plate. Since fractures can be hard to see at first, the doctor may tell you that your child's X-ray looks normal, but treat your child in case the fracture shows up on X-ray later. As a fracture heals, your child's body sends extra calcium, bone cells and blood vessels to rebuild the bone.

After seven to 10 days of rebuilding, there is enough calcium around the fracture so that it shows up on an X-ray. This is why one doctor may say that your child does not have a fracture, and then later, another doctor says your child does have one.

Learn more about our pediatric radiologists and guidelines

How fractures can affect your child's growth

In children and teens, bone growth happens at specific parts of the bone called growth plates. Growth plates determine the future length and shape of the bone. Since growth plates are made of cartilage, they are weaker than other areas of a growing skeleton. This makes them more vulnerable to injuries, including fractures.
Pediatric orthopaedic specialists know how to properly diagnose and treat injuries to growth plates to minimize growth disturbances associated with a fracture. If an injury to a growth plate is not treated the right way, it could result in long-term complications like deformity or arthritis.

If a growth plate is damaged and not treated properly, it could:

  • Stop or slow a bone's growth
  • Change how a bone works
  • Cause the bone to grow crooked

Learn more about fractures in the arms, legs, knees, ankles, and elbows

Take Action

Steps to get help

If you suspect your child has a broken bone, it's important to get them care quickly so that their bones can heal properly.

1. Contact your pediatrician or visit a Children's Urgent Care Center or emergency department. If your child's bone is coming through the skin, call 911 or go to your nearest emergency department.

Find a pediatrician

Locate a Children's Emergency Department near you

2. If your child is diagnosed with a broken bone, follow your doctor's orders. If you need to find a pediatric orthopaedic surgeon or pediatric hand surgeon to schedule an appointment, we have several on our team.*

Find a pediatric orthopaedic surgeon

Find a pediatric orthopaedic hand surgeon (for hand or wrist injuries)

*Pediatric orthopaedic surgeons and hand surgeons who perform services at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta are independent providers and are not our employees.

3. If you have questions, call Fracture Care at 404-785-4913.


Caring for broken bones

Your child's care team will create treatment plan designed for your child's needs. Treatment options depend on:

  • The type of fracture
  • Your child's age and health
  • Whether or not there are any other injuries

Your child's doctor will want to prevent the broken bone from moving so that it can heal. This will reduce damage to the tissue around the broken bone, including nearby blood vessels and nerves.

Ways to prevent the bone from moving might include:

  • Applying casts or splints.
  • Inserting hardware like screws, rods, plates or pins into the broken bone during surgery. If there is hardware outside the body, it will be removed when the bone heals.

Fractures can take from several weeks to several months to heal. The time it takes to heal depends on:

  • The type of fracture
  • Which bone is broken
  • How severe the injury is
  • The age of the child

Pain usually stops long before the fracture is healed. Your child will be able to begin some activity before the fracture heals completely. Even after removing the cast or splint, your child may need to limit activity until the bone is solid enough to use normally.

If you have concerns about your child, call his or her doctor.

Physical therapy

Depending on the type and severity of the fracture, your child's doctor may recommend physical therapy after the bone has healed to help regain strength and movement.

Locate a Children's outpatient physical therapy location near you

Locate a Children's sports medicine physical therapy location near you


Here are a few tips to help prevent a fracture.

For babies and toddlers:

  • Always use a baby or child car seat each time your child rides in a vehicle.
  • Use baby gates at the top and bottom of stairs.
  • Do not use baby walkers.
  • Do not leave your child alone in a high place, such as a changing table, bed, sofa or chair— not even for a second. Use safety straps in high chairs and grocery carts.

For kids and teens:

  • Always use a booster seat or seat belts each time your child rides in a vehicle.
  • Use helmets, pads and safety gear when your child plays sports.
  • Make sure your child gets enough calcium and vitamin D to build strong bones. (Recommended daily dosage of vitamin D is 600 IU, and 1,000 – 1,300 milligrams of calcium.)
  • Have your child get plenty of exercise to help him stay strong and fit.