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HealthInfo Canterbury

How are growth plate injuries treated?

growth plate treatmentTreatment for growth plate injuries depends on what type of injury it is. If the bones are still together and facing the right way (undisplaced injuries) the first treatment is to rest, and not put any weight on the affected arm or leg. Often, this means wearing a cast, splint, or brace over the area to stop it moving.

Most growth plate injuries are minor, and resting while the injury heals may be the only treatment needed.

If bones are out of place, they may have to be put back into place through a gentle procedure called a reduction. If needed, a reduction will usually be done in the after-hours clinic, hospital emergency department, or operating theatre, after the child has been given pain relief medication. Afterwards, the child may wear a cast, splint, or brace to make sure the bones don't move out of place.

If your child has a complicated injury, they may need surgery to realign the bones. The surgeon may insert surgical plates, screws, or wires to hold the bone in place so it heals normally. After surgery, some children will wear a cast or splint.

What can I do to help my child heal?

There are several things you and your child can do to make sure the injured bone heals as well as possible.

For the first 24 to 48 hours, apply ice to the area for 20 minutes at a time. This helps to ease pain and reduce swelling. Wrap the ice in a damp towel or cloth, don't apply it directly to the skin or you could cause an ice burn.

Your child may need simple pain medication. Make sure they take it regularly until they are comfortable, but never exceed the recommended dose for your child's weight. Don't give them anti-inflammatory pain relievers such as ibuprofen, as this may slow down their bone healing.

Encourage them to move the parts of their body below the injury, for example their hand and fingers if the injury was in their wrist, or their foot if their injury was in their leg. If they have a cast, they can gently move the joints above and below the cast while it is on. Once the cast comes off they can focus on getting the affected joint moving.

When their cast has come off your child can return to low-impact, non-contact sports such as swimming as soon as they are comfortable. They should avoid any contact or high-impact sports, such as rugby, netball, and athletics for six weeks after their cast comes off.

What happens next?

After treatment, most children don't have any long-term complications from growth plate injuries. In a few, the injury slows down or even stops growth in the injured bone, which can lead to a deformed limb and problems with the way it works. So it's important to keep regular follow-up appointments with your doctor and follow their advice, to make sure the bones are healing and growing normally.

Some growth plate injuries are more likely to lead to later problems than others. Some may just need to be watched to check the affected limb is growing at the same rate as the unaffected one, and doesn't become shorter or bowed. If this happens, it's important to see your doctor. Other injuries may need regular X-rays and follow-up until your child has stopped growing.

Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Endorsed by orthopaedic surgeon, Canterbury DHB. Page created May 2017.


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Review key: HIGPI-371216