More than 100 children are being diagnosed per week with new fractures (a.k.a. broken bones). Add emergency room visits to follow-up visits and appointments to have casts removed and it’s quite a busy time for the hospital’s ER staff, eight pediatric orthopedic surgeons, nurse practitioners, orthopedic technicians and support staff.
Blame the joys of summer for unplanned trips to the ER. Kids falling off monkey bars, colliding on backyard trampolines, crashing on scooters, and taking one for the team are among the leading causes for fractures.
Boys outnumber girls (59/41 percent) in breaking bones, with most common fractures in kids being the radius and ulna (long forearm bones), the humerus (upper arm), and tibia and fibula (shin and lateral bones of the lower leg).
“The good news is kids’ bones have the ability to heal, remodel and re-align,” said Kerwyn Jones, MD, chairman of Orthopedics. “Parents and kids may not think so when they first look at those initial x-rays, but it is amazing. You just have to let nature take its course.”
Most fractures simply need the protection of a cast, typically four to six weeks. More traumatic injuries will require orthopedic surgery to bring the bones back into alignment.
While at least one broken bone may seem like a rite of childhood, the risk of suffering a fracture can be reduced with some simple, everyday lifestyle choices, such as childproofing your home, having kids wear helmets and safety gear when participating in sports, and using car seats and seat belts for kids at every age and stage.
Childhood is the only opportunity kids have to create the strong, healthy bones that will last them a lifetime.
Once they reach adulthood, bone mass gradually reduces and this is even more pronounced for women.
According to Dr. Jones, the three keys to promoting healthy bones are:
- Weight-bearing activity – running, playing, climbing, catching balls – engages the bones and muscles and stimulates and strengthens bone tissue. It doesn’t matter if it’s free play in the backyard or organized sports, any activity is better than sitting for hours in front of a TV or computer.
- Calcium – calcium-rich foods should be part of every child’s diet. If your child does not eat many dairy products or other calcium-rich foods, a calcium supplement, such as a chewable Tums, is the next best thing.
- Sun exposure – We get vitamin D from diet and from sunlight, which converts an inactive form of vitamin D in the skin to it active form. The body needs this to promote the deposit of minerals like calcium and phosphate into bones. Of course, it’s a balance between not getting too much sun to cause sunburns and increase your skin cancer risk.
Parents of kids who suffer frequent fractures may begin to wonder if there is some underlying medical cause like congenital low bone density.
“We usually don’t start thinking about that until a child suffers three fractures in a year,” said Dr. Jones. “We also look at the injury and if it makes sense based on the mechanism … or what the child says he was doing to cause the fracture.”
Signs that your child may have a fracture include pain, swelling, pain, deformity (bump or change in shape), inability to bear weight or walking with an awkward gait.
If your child does get a broken bone, remember that even though it can be frightening, a fracture is a common, treatable injury that many kids experience at one time or another. With a little patience, your child will be back to playing and running around before you know it.
Get your bone facts straight
Perhaps because of fun Halloween decorations and fossils in museums, people think of skeletons – and thus bones – as something dead. But bones are very much alive, growing and changing like other parts of your body.
Here are 3 other common myths associated with bones:
Myth: a fracture is different than a broken bone.
In fact, they are the same. You may hear various adjectives such as severe, greenstick, stress, and hairline fracture to describe the cause or severity of the injury. Don’t hesitate to ask your doctor questions as you look at your child’s x-ray and discuss the treatment plan.
Myth: Waterproof casts are not really waterproof.
Waterproof casts are indeed waterproof – and a real blessing for kids who love to swim and parents who like hassle-free baths. Waterproof casts feature a Gore-Tex inner layer, and a fiberglass exterior shell. Not every hospital offers them, but waterproof casts are available at Akron Children’s Akron ED and all its Ortho offices in a rainbow of colors. Can you guess the most popular shades? Check out our infographic for the answer.
Myth: When a bone breaks, it will heal stronger than it was before.
There is no evidence that a broken bone will heal stronger. The healing process begins with calcium being deposited at the site to aid rebuilding.
When a cast is applied to protect the site, the bone in the area grows weaker from lack of use – except the site of the callus, where the calcium is being deposit.
As a result, there may be a brief period in the healing process when the fracture site is stronger than the surrounding bone. They will later reach equal strength and the fracture site will be no more or less likely to break again.