One in three healthy children will break a bone at some point during childhood. Short of wrapping your kid in bubble wrap, having them wear protective gear while playing sports is the best way to prevent fractures. But if it does happen, you’ll want to stay calm and take the appropriate action.
Board-certified orthopedic surgeon Dr. Andrew B. Weiss routinely sees children for fracture care in his office in Beverly Hills, California. The good news is that most broken bones in children will heal quickly with the proper attention.
Top causes of broken bones in kids
According to one study of fractures in children, age 10 is when most fractures occur. Soccer is the main culprit, although snowboarding has a higher incidence when rated by how many hours kids spend snowboarding compare to playing soccer.
Other common causes of fractures in kids include:
- Rollerblading or skateboarding
- Playing on a playground
- Trampoline use
- Ice skating
What’s the difference between a broken bone or fractured bone?
Though one may sound more significant than the other, there is no difference! They mean the same thing. You get to choose whichever you wish to call it.
The bones kids are most likely to break
Most kids who show up with a broken bone have a break in the forearm around the wrist area, with broken fingers or toes coming in second and third.
Many breaks are simply buckling of the bone. The bone may also bend slightly. These still require a cast or an immobilizing splint while healing, but don’t typically require the bone to be “set”.
A broken wrist is actually a forearm fracture. The two lower arm bones, the ulna and radius, are very vulnerable to injuries from a simple fall. Your child can easily throw a hand out to catch themselves, and hit at just the wrong angle to cause a fracture of one or both of these forearm bones just above the wrist.
There’s a weaker area of bone that is particularly susceptible to fracture: the wider part of the wrist. This is called a distal radius fracture. If there is an audible snapping sound, and the wrist swells almost immediately and looks deformed, one or both bones may have broken completely through. One name given to the appearance of a broken wrist is the “dinner fork deformity”.
The bone above or below the elbow can also break, especially if your child falls sideways and lands on their elbow. An elbow can also be broken by falling on an outstretched wrist.
An elbow break usually has a very sharp pain that worsens if the arm is straightened or lifted. These injuries are common in kids who take a lot of falls on concrete while skating or skateboarding. They can often be prevented with the correct safety gear, such as elbow pads.
A clavicle fracture is extremely common in active kids, including children who ride horseback or play contact sports. The collarbone (clavicle) is vulnerable to impact to the shoulder, which can cause a clean or fragmented break. The bone must be immobilized to heal properly.
While this is one of the most common fractures, a collarbone break is often not diagnosed right away, especially in small children who don’t know how to express their level of pain. If you suspect a clavicle fracture, Dr. Weiss can help confirm it and come up with the best plan of treatment for immobilizing the bone so it can heal.
Lower leg bones may also be fractured while playing sports. They’re more likely to be broken during heavy contact play, while skiing or snowboarding, or when doing tricks on a skateboard or a sports bike. Upper leg bones, like upper arm bones, are much less likely to break.
If your child’s leg is broken, it’s recommended not to move them yourself, but to call for help. Medical professionals can help protect the leg tissues from damage caused by movement of the fractured bones.
Bone fractures are best treated by an orthopedist like Dr. Weiss. For simple breaks, recovery is usually a matter of weeks, but for serious fractures your child may need a series of casts or splints followed by physical therapy to make a full recovery.