What Makes Children's Bones Different From Adult Bones?

When it comes to treating fractures in children, it’s important to remember kids are not just small adults. Kid bones differ from adult bones in significant ways, which affects the type of care they need to heal properly. Pediatric radiologists and pediatric orthopedic surgeons are doctors who specialize in recognizing and treating broken bones in growing kids and teens.

Here are some ways kid and teen bones are different from adult bones and reasons why seeing a pediatric specialist matters:

1. Babies have more bones than adults.

An adult has 206 bones, but a newborn baby has nearly 300 bones in her body. This is because babies have more flexible cartilage (a firm tissue softer than bone) in the body. As the child grows, some of the cartilage hardens and turns to bone, and some bones fuse together.

2. Children’s bones are continuously growing.

Your child’s bones won’t stop growing until his late teens or early 20s. This is both an advantage and a disadvantage. As a child’s bone grows, it is likely to remodel and realign itself. This means if a broken bone is crooked, it can straighten itself out over time. On the other hand, if a break occurs in the growth region at the end of a bone, also called the growth plate or physis, it may impact normal growth and cause significant deformity of the limb. A pediatric specialist is trained to recognize and care for these types of injuries.

3. Kids’ bones are more flexible than adults’ bones.

An adult’s bones are harder, more brittle and more likely to break than bend. A child’s bones are more flexible because their chemical composition is different than that of adult bones. This means a kid’s bone might bend or “bow” instead of breaking. Bent bones can actually be harder to treat than broken bones.

4. Children heal faster than adults and can remodel or reshape their bones.

Pediatric orthopedic surgeons can often treat kids’ fractures with a cast and avoid surgery. That’s because the bones heal rapidly. Not only do growing bones heal more quickly, but because they are growing, they can correct their shape over time.

5. Children are often more active than adults.

Pediatric orthopedic specialists create treatment plans tailored specially for the on-the-go child. This often means keeping a cast on until the fracture is completely healed to avoid more injury during play and activities.

6. Kids’ ligaments are stronger than parts of their bones.

Ligaments are tough bands of tissue that connect one bone to another. Because kids’ ligaments are stronger than their bones, they tend to get different kinds of bone and joint injuries than adults do. For example, children rarely sprain their ankles; instead, they break them through the growth plate. The most common fracture in kids that doesn’t require surgery occurs in the forearm. The most common pediatric fracture requiring surgery occurs just above the elbow.

7. Children’s bones are smaller than adults’ bones.

Many of the orthopedic devices and braces used to treat broken bones are designed for adults and don’t fit kids very well. A pediatric orthopedic surgeon uses techniques and devices designed for children. This often means less time in a cast or splint and fewer surgeries than for an adult.

Where you take them matters

At Children’s, we understand pediatric broken bones because we treat more of them than any other hospital in Georgia. If your toddler, young child or teen has a fracture, our board-certified pediatric orthopedic specialists know how to diagnose and treat growing bones. We have twelve Children’s Physician Group–Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine locations as well as three Emergency Departments and several Urgent Care Centers across metro Atlanta ready to treat broken bones.

Visit choa.org/cpgortho for help finding a pediatric orthopedic specialist.

This content is general information and not specific medical advice. Always consult with a doctor or healthcare provider if you have any questions or concerns about the health of a child. In case of an urgent concern or emergency, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency department right away.