Young athletes at risk for growth plate fractures
"Growing pains" is an expression used to explain rapid growth in adolescence. But for some -- especially those involved in sports -- it can be a serious injury when the growth plate in one of the long bones of arms or legs is fractured.
The growth plate -- otherwise known as the epiphyseal plate or physis -- is the area near each end of the long bones that is nonsolidified growing tissue, according to the National Institute of Arthritis and Muscoskeletal and Skin Disease (NIAMSD). The growth plate is only found in children and adolescents. Adult growth plates have "sealed" and hardened into solid bone.
The Mayo Clinic reports these injuries need immediate treatment, since an injury to this area can affect bone growth. Improper or no treatment can cause a shorter or malformed bone in comparison to its opposite limb. However, the Mayo Clinic reports about 85 percent of growth plate fractures heal without surgery or complications if properly treated.
Take your child to the doctor immediately if he or she shows any of these signs:
•An inability to move the affected area.
•An inability to put pressure or weight on the area.
•Unrelenting severe pain.
Both the Mayo Clinic and NIAMSD report that falls and blows to the limbs cause growth plate fractures. The agencies list child abuse, injuries from extreme cold such as frost bite, car accidents, radiation and medications such as chemotherapy and steroids, neurological disorders, genetics and metabolic disease as causes.
The NIAMSD also said about a third of growth plate fractures are caused by sports such as football, basketball and gymnastics. Another 20 percent are the result of biking, skiing, skateboarding or sledding.
The cause of growth plate fractures are divided into two categories: a single traumatic event or overuse, according to NIAMSD. The most common areas affected are in the long bones of the fingers, outer bone of the forearm and in the leg's lower bones.
About 15 percent of children's fractures are to the growth plate and occur twice as often in boys, the Mayo Clinic said. Such fractures are most common from ages 9 to 15. Girls age 12 and older are less likely to sustain a growth plate fracture because they physically mature faster than boys and the growth plate has already "sealed."
Growth plate injuries are hard to detect on X-rays because the plates have not yet hardened into solid bone, according to the Mayo Clinic, though some doctors may X-ray both the injured and healthy opposite limb for comparison. Sometimes MRIs, CT scans or ultrasounds may be conducted.
The course of treatment depends on the severity of the injury, the Mayo Clinic states. Usually, a cast or a splint is sufficient. If the bone end has separated from the shaft, surgical repair is typical.
The Mayo Clinic suggests comparing the growth of the injured and health limb every three to six months for at least two years.