Healthcare Tips

Kids Break Bones More Often Than Adults. Find Out Why and What to Do

June 17, 2022

Broken bones and childhood go together like peanut butter and jelly. Nearly half of kids break a bone, and ages 11-15 are the most common time for fractures. That’s because it’s also puberty growth spurt time, and bones grow so fast that they can’t get all the minerals they need to stay strong. Forearm fractures are the most common, simply because we throw our arms out to brace ourselves when we fall.

Kids don’t get more breaks because they’re more fragile than adults, but because they’re typically more active and perhaps a little less cautious. All that adds up to a high likelihood of a fracture, and knowing what to do is important. Orthopedic Specialists Dr. Clay Strong and Dr. Will Adams answer common questions about breaks.

If I think my kid has a broken bone, do I go to the ER or immediate care, or do I make an appointment with my primary care physician?

You’ll most likely want to get into an urgent care facility such as Gateway. Doing so is a relatively simple and efficient way to get an X-ray to rule out a fracture, and an urgent care facility can provide splinting and appropriate follow up, as well. Badly broken bones that involve obvious deformity or breaks to the skin and severe pain require a trip to the ER.

What type of imaging do you conduct to determine whether a child’s bone is broken?

An X-ray of the affected area is the first step. “We’ll proceed with advanced imaging (MRI or CT scan) when X-rays are negative but we still have concern,” said Dr. Strong.

What’re the next steps at Hancock if my child’s bone is broken?

Depending on the fracture, it could be as simple as bracing or casting, or as complex as surgery. For most cases, bracing or casting are all you need.

What’s the average amount of time for a fractured arm or ankle to heal?

It usually takes four to six weeks for a bone to heal, but it can take up to three months or longer in rare instances. Recovery for the soft tissue—muscles and tendons—usually takes longer.

How many follow-up appointments are needed with Hancock orthopedics?

The minimum is two visits—the initial consultation and a follow-up appointment—but you may need further appointments if the fracture is more complex. The short answer is as many as is necessary to make sure the fracture has healed and your child can get back to everything they want to do.

How do you clean a cast?

It’s a little tricky, which is why keeping it wrapped and avoiding instances that can get it dirty are your best bet. Failing that, keep in mind that water in a cast is bad news for skin, so gentle wiping with a damp cloth and mild dish detergent are as much as you can do.

When is physical therapy necessary for a fractured bone?

Physical therapy is necessary when a fracture causes a loss of function or when the treatment (casting, not putting weight on it, and so on) causes the muscles around the bone to weaken from disuse. PT is also helpful for athletes who want to return to sports. Fractures that involve a joint also are more likely to require physical therapy for a full, fast recovery.

Does it hurt to remove a cast?

Nope. But it sounds a little unnerving: The cast saw is loud, and it heats up, but it will only cut the cast, not the skin. “We can show you how it works before we take it off to help with any anxiety,” said Dr. Strong. And Dr. Adams told us that some patients even say it tickles a little.

What happens after the bone is healed?

Kids can gradually get back to normal activity after they’ve been cleared by their physician. Because they’re still growing, there’s a final phase of healing called remodeling, which means the bone continues to grow and increase blood flow where it’d been broken. This can last several months.

What can a parent do to ensure healthy bones in their child?

Making sure your child has a healthy diet is key. So is daily exercise, which helps strengthen bones. Another important element for keeping bones healthy is avoiding risk where you can—wear a seatbelt, wear a helmet when riding a bike, say no to risky activities, and so on. Or at least, avoid risk as much as possible for little humans who have very little concept of cause and effect and underdeveloped risk aversion.The balanced diet element is extremely important. With a healthy diet, vitamin D and calcium levels are likely to be on target. But if you’re concerned, you can ask your pediatrician to check blood levels so you know your child’s bones are getting what they need.

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