The harder kids play, the harder they fall. The fact is, broken bones, or fractures, are common in childhood and often happen when kids are playing or participating in sports.
Many kids will have a broken bone at some point. Most aren't too big of a deal, but fractures can be scary for kids and parents alike. Here's what to expect.
Falls are a common part of childhood, but not every fall results in a broken bone. The classic signs of a fracture are pain, swelling, and deformity (which looks like a bump or change in shape of the bone). However, if a break is non-displaced (when the pieces on either side are straight in line with one another), it may be harder to tell.
Signs that a bone is broken are:
- You or your child heard a snap or a grinding noise during the injury.
- There's swelling, bruising, or tenderness around the injured part.
- It's painful for your child to move it, touch it, or press on it; if the leg is injured, it's painful to bear weight on it.
- The injured part looks deformed. In severe breaks, the broken bone might poke through the skin.
If you suspect that your child has a fracture, you should seek medical care immediately.
If your child has either of the following, do not move your child and call 911 for emergency care:
- Your child may have seriously injured the head, neck, or back
- The broken bone comes through the skin. Apply constant pressure with a clean gauze pad or thick cloth, and keep your child lying down until help arrives. Don't wash the wound or push in any part of the bone that's sticking out.
Although most broken bones simply need a cast to heal, other more serious fractures (such as compound fractures) might require surgery to be properly aligned and to make sure the bones stay together during the healing process.
With breaks in larger bones or when the bone breaks into more than two pieces, the doctor may put a metal pin in the bone to help set it before placing a cast. When the bone has healed, the doctor will remove the pin.
For the most severe breaks, a surgical repair may require a larger metal plate to be attached to the outside surfaces of the bone, or a rod may be put within the bone to hold bone fragments in place.
For less serious injuries, try to stabilize the injury as soon as it happens by taking these quick steps:
- Remove clothing from around the injured part. Don't force a limb out of the clothing, though. You may need to cut clothing off with scissors to prevent your child from having unnecessary added pain.
- Apply a cold compress or ice pack wrapped in cloth. Do not put ice directly on the skin.
- Place a makeshift splint on the injured part by:
- keeping the injured limb in the position you find it
- placing soft padding around the injured part
- placing something firm (like a board or rolled-up newspapers) next to the injured part, making sure it's long enough to go past the joints above and below the injury
- keeping the splint loosely in place with first-aid tape or a wraparound bandage
- Get medical care right away, and don't allow the child to eat, in case surgery is needed.