Why Is Fracture Treatment Different in Children Compared to Adults?

Why Is Fracture Treatment Different in Children Compared to Adults?

by Alex Hirsch (SU)

You may have noticed that the treatment methods used for fractures is different for children and adults. Orthopedists treat fractures differently, depending on the age of the patient.

But isn’t a fracture the same thing, whether it happens to a child or an adult? Not necessarily.

Fractures have different implications on children than they do on adults. The risks, damage, and recovery are different because of specific differences in bone structure.

How Are Children’s Bones Different than in Adults?

Let’s take a closer look at what the differences are between the anatomy of bones in children and adults:

Growth Plates 

The primary difference between the bone structure in children as compared to adults is that children’s bones have growth plates, while adult bones do not. Growth plates are located at the ends of the long bones, and they help the bone finish growing completely as the child grows up. 

These plates are soft and relatively weak, so an injury that would cause a sprain in an adult might actually cause a fracture in a child. This is why treatment is needed immediately for children, so the fracture does not heal improperly – otherwise, the bone could heal in a crooked manner, or the bone could end up being shorter than in the opposite limb.

When a fracture passes through a growth plate, it affects the type of treatment done on the fracture. Growth plates can sometimes help fractured bones heal correctly on their own, depending on the shape and location of the break.

Twice as many boys as girls suffer from growth-plate fractures simply because girls tend to finish growing at an earlier age than boys do. The growth plates in girls’ bones therefore have been fully replaced with solid bone usually by age 12; boys often still have growth plates into their late teens.

Periosteum

The periosteum is a thick, fibrous, vascular cover that surrounds and supports the bones. Periosteum also helps the bones grow thicker as a child grows older.

As the child grows, the periosteum becomes thinner because the bones no longer require the extra density and external support. The periosteum also enables the bones of a young child to be more flexible because it gives the bones a plastic-like exterior quality.

This means a bone can bend farther in a child before it fractures than a bone can in an adult. Periosteum also offers healing components that help fractures and bent bones heal faster. This element can make treating a child for a broken bone easier in many ways than it is for adults.

Bone Patterns

The pattern in which children tend to develop fractures is different than it is for adults, particularly because the growth plates and periosteum in children haven’t yet finished growing. This can also make treatments different between the two groups of patients: Adults are more likely to require surgery – and months of recuperation – to properly repair a broken bone, whereas children’s bones can usually heal within a matter of weeks with only a cast. 

Orthopedic Doctors in the Tri-Cities, Tennessee 

If you are interested in learning more about fractures in adults and children and exploring which treatment is the right one for you or your child, contact Watauga Orthopaedics. Our facilities in Johnson City and Kingsport offer innovative, state-of-the-art treatments for a wide range of orthopedic conditions and injuries in adults and children, including broken bones and other musculoskeletal issues.

Call us at (423) 282-9011 today to make an appointment, or request an appointment online. We’re here to help you heal well – and feel well.