How Fractures Differ in Adults and Children

Children’s bones aren’t simply smaller versions of the adult frame.

Breaking a bone is typically painful and often requires plenty of recovery time, and it doesn’t matter if you’re old or young. However, there are differences between the bones of children and adults. A child isn’t simply a small version of an adult. 

No matter the age, healing properly after a bone break can require special care. If you or your child has broken a bone, the health specialists Mehling Orthopedics can perform a complete evaluation and get the bone back to excellent health.

Bone anatomy

The journey from infanthood to adulthood is a process that takes about two decades. From the time of birth to adulthood, you’ll start with almost 300 bones before ending up with about 206, the typical adult average. Children have more cartilage, too, which turns into bone as they get older through a process called ossification.

If it seems that a child’s body can absorb falls and injuries that would mean an emergency room visit for you, you may not be mistaken. The extra bones and increased amount of cartilage can help children absorb more shock. Furthermore, their smaller size and lower weight can lessen their chances of getting injured.

Greenstick fractures

If you’ve ever tried to snap a small branch that is freshly removed from a live tree, you’ll know what a greenstick fracture is. Instead of a clean snap and break, the green branch doesn’t yield at a single point, and sections on either side of the break remain connected.

This is analogous to the bone break of a child. The composition of their bones is different, so only the periosteum — the outer layer of the bone — breaks cleanly. The inner part of the bone is softer, and as a result, it typically experiences less damage. Because of this construction, a child’s bone break can heal faster. Though greenstick fractures aren’t the only type of break a child can have, it shows that bones change over time.

Growth plates

One place where children don’t have an advantage is in regards to growth plates. Growth plates are sections near the ends of long bones where growth takes place. Each long bone has two growth plates, one at each end. When children reach adulthood, they no longer have growth plates, because they fuse to the rest of the bone. 

When a bone break affects a growth plate, it’s possible for the injury to damage this section. This can interfere with or even stop bone growth, which can lead to differences in limb length, for example.

The importance of activity

Bones need load-bearing movement to maintain mass and stay strong, and this is the same for both children and adults. Increasing physical activity pays health dividends no matter your age. Weight-bearing activities, such as walking, hiking, or running are good for bone development.

If you or your child has a broken bone, the health specialists at Mehling Orthopedics can help. To learn more, book an appointment over the phone today.

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