Growth plate fractures are cracks in a child’s growth plate — the special section of cartilage at the ends of their long bones. They only affect kids and teens because growth plates harden into regular bone when a child is done growing. Providers treat most growth plate fractures with casts. They usually heal in around a month.
The growth plate is exactly what it sounds like — a special piece that helps bones grow and develop into the correct size and shape. Growth plates harden into solid bone when a child has finished growing.
Visit a healthcare provider if your child has bone pain, swelling or one of their body parts looks noticeably different or out of place. Most growth plate fractures take several weeks to heal, and it’s important to get them diagnosed and treated right away.
Healthcare providers classify growth plate fractures using the Salter-Harris system which divides them into five types:
Growth plate fractures are one of the most common bone injuries children experience. Around one-third of all childhood bone fractures are growth plate fractures.
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The most common growth plate fracture symptoms include:
Younger children might not able to communicate that they’re injured or accurately describe their symptoms. Look for your child suddenly favoring a part of their body. They might reflexively hold their injured limb close their body, wince or limp.
Sudden traumas are the most common causes of growth plate fractures, including:
Overtraining or specializing too soon in one sport can put repetitive stress on a child’s growth plates and lead to a fracture. Children and teens shouldn’t play the same sport year-round until their body finishes developing.
Any child can experience a growth plate fracture, but some are more likely than others, including:
Most growth plate fractures don’t lead to complications, especially if a healthcare provider diagnoses and treats them within a week of the original injury.
Growth plate fracture complications can include:
A healthcare provider will diagnose a growth plate fracture with a physical exam and imaging tests. Your provider will examine the area around your child’s injury and ask about their symptoms. They might check your child’s range of motion (how far they can move part of their body) and compare it to their other, uninjured limb.
Tell your provider anything you know about what your child was doing before their injury, including when you first noticed something was wrong or when they felt pain.
Your provider will use at least one type of imaging test to take pictures of your child’s bones and the other tissue around their injury. They might need:
Providers usually treat growth plate fractures with a cast (immobilization). A cast will protect your child’s bone and hold it in the correct position while it heals. Your provider will tell you which type of cast your child will need, and how you can help them take care of it.
It’s rare to need surgery to repair a growth plate fracture. It’s more common with more severe fractures (types 3, 4 or 5). If your child needs surgery, their surgeon will perform what’s called an internal fixation. They’ll realign (set) your child’s bone, then put fasteners like metal screws, pins or wires in the bone to hold it in place while it heals. Your child might need follow-up surgery to remove the fasteners after their bone heals. Your provider or surgeon will tell you what to expect.
Most kids need to wear a cast for around a month after a growth plate fracture (usually four to six weeks). It might take longer if they had a more severe type of fracture, or if they needed surgery.
Your provider will tell you what to expect. The healing time depends on which of your child’s bones was injured and the growth plate fracture’s severity.
There’s usually nothing you can do to prevent your child from experiencing a growth plate fracture because they’re caused by sudden accidents or injuries. But there are a few ways you can reduce your child’s injury risk. During sports or other physical activities, make sure your child:
Follow these general safety tips to reduce your family’s injury risk:
Most growth plate fractures heal without complications or long-term effects on a child’s health and development. The best way to reduce the odds of complications is to get a growth plate fracture diagnosed as soon as possible (within a week).
Ask your provider when it’s safe for your child to return to sports or resume physical activities. If your child’s growth plate hasn’t completely healed before they start putting stress on it again, there’s an increased risk of complications (including refracturing it).
Visit a healthcare provider right away if your child experiences trauma like a severe fall or car accident.
Go to the emergency room (ER) right away if you think your child has a broken bone, or if they’re experiencing any of the following symptoms:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
It’s always scary when your child is hurt, especially if it happened during a fall or accident you can’t prevent. Growth plate fractures can be serious, but most kids bounce back just fine after they’ve had time to heal.
The most important part of treating a growth plate fracture is time — visit a provider as soon as possible if you think your child has a growth plate fracture (or any other bone injury). The sooner your provider can diagnose the fracture and get your child in a cast, the faster they’ll heal up and be back to their usual routine and activities.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 11/02/2023.
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