Broken bones, or fractures commonly occur in childhood. It can be a normal part of play, sports or daily activities. We specialize in pediatric fracture care for infants, children, adolescents and young athletes. Where you take them matters, so bring them to our team of highly trained specialists who understand growing bones.
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.
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.
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*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
Fractures to growth areas are quite common during childhood. 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.
A fracture occurs when a force exceeds the bone’s ability to resist. The weakest part of a structure will fail first – often protecting surrounding bones. Cartilage is weaker than bone and in young children ligaments near a joint are stronger than the cartilaginous growth plate (physis). That’s why young children rarely sprain their ankles (a sprain is a ligament injury), but will break through the growth area of the bottom of the bone when they twist their ankles.
When the trauma is minor, permanent growth problems rarely happen. However, in major traumas, with more significant injuries, where the bones are crushed or the growth plate is compressed, a partial or complete growth arrest can occur, even if the fracture is perfectly fixed.
A partial growth arrest means that part of the area is growing but another part is not, resulting in a limb that grows crooked. A complete growth arrest means the limb will not grow at all, and will be shorter than the other side. It’s important to continue seeing your doctor until he or she has cleared your child after a fracture to the growth area, especially if around the hip, knee, or ankle. It may take up to one year to detect a problem, depending on the growth rate.
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