What is a Growth Plate and Why Does it Need Special Care?

What is a Growth Plate and Why Does it Need Special Care?

Your child is always growing and developing. They outgrow their old clothes and shoes. They lose all their baby teeth and adult teeth come to take their place. In addition, the bones in their skeleton are continuing to harden and mature. 

Because growing children and developing teens tend to be so active, these hardening bones — called growth plates — are very susceptible to injury. With that in mind, our team of podiatrists at Rocky Mountain Foot and Ankle Center want to give you more information on what exactly a growth plate is, why it needs special care, and what to do should it get injured.

Explaining growth plates

Since your child grows so quickly during their formative years, a growth plate helps not only to support bone growth but also works to determine the final length and shape of the bone. Growth plates are areas of tissues and cartilage that are found at the end of your child’s long bones, including the bones in the fingers, arms, legs, and feet.

Because the tissue is so soft, growth plates are vulnerable to many types of injuries. If your child falls, rather than a minor sprain, they could experience a fractured growth plate. The growth plate can also fracture if they overtrain and put repeated stress on it.  

As many as 30% of childhood fractures are growth plate fractures. Due to the fact that growth plates play such a major role in your child’s development, we need to be able to evaluate and treat a growth plate fracture within 5-7 days of the injury. If the injury goes untreated, the bone has the potential to become deformed or won’t be able to reach its full potential.

Treating a fractured growth plate

If you suspect that your child has fractured a growth plate due to an injury, bring them in right away so we can properly diagnose and treat it.

We start with an examination and an X-ray to determine if they indeed have a growth plate fracture and figure out how to best treat it in order to prevent any complications. Your child’s treatment plan depends on factors such as:

Typically, your child’s growth plate is able to heal with a cast and rest. However, if the fracture is more severe, surgery may be needed to insert screws, wires, or plates. These hold the bones together to support proper healing. 

Your child’s bones are going to heal very quickly; however, the amount of time it takes for your child to recover from a growth plate fracture varies. So, the cast may need to remain on for some time, typically several weeks.

Keeping an eye on the growth plate

Even after the cast comes off, we need to closely monitor your child’s growth plate for at least a year to make sure that it’s growing like it should. If your child fractured the growth plate on the thigh bone or shinbone, we have to continue to monitor your child until the growth plate has reached full maturity and formed into solid bone, which occurs during adolescence. 

While children are prone to injury, they’re also very resilient. As long as they receive the right treatment and care, they shouldn’t have any long-term issues with their growth plates.

If your child has fractured their growth plate, bring them in to see us right away for prompt and proper treatment in any of our five Colorado offices. You can set up an appointment by giving us a call or using our online scheduler today.

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