Preventing and Treating Fractures (Broken Bones)

Summertime, and the living may be easy, but your kids are likely playing hard. Injuries like broken bones, also called fractures, tend to peak during the summer. Read on to learn more about how to prevent fractures and what to do if your child has fractured a bone in this Q&A featuring Molly Meadows, MD, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon at Stanford Children’s Health.

Q: What kinds of activities are most likely to cause a fracture?

A: The most common causes of fractures, particularly in younger children, are not traditional team sports, but things like trampolines, bouncy houses, and monkey bars. In teenagers, we start to see more fractures from contact sports, as well as activities like hoverboarding and mountain biking.

Q: Is there anything parents can do to reduce the risk of injury during these activities?

A: I’m a big believer in letting kids continue to do the activities they love, but in a safer way. One of the biggest risks we see, especially with fractures from trampolines, is when kids who are smaller are bouncing around with kids much bigger than them, or with their adult family members. I always recommend that toddlers and teens bounce at separate times, and parents should try to limit the total number of people on the trampoline at a time.

Q: If your child is hurt, how can you tell if they need medical treatment right away or if they might recover on their own?

A: This is a tough question for most parents. Of course, you don’t need to run to the doctor every time your kid falls, but you also don’t want to miss anything that needs urgent treatment. In general, it’s fine to wait overnight to see if your child improves, unless:

  • You notice a visible deformity—if the bone doesn’t look straight or normal.
  • Your child’s pain is getting worse, or if they don’t want to play or participate in their favorite activities.

Q: Where should you take your child if you suspect a fracture?

A: If your child’s bone doesn’t look normal or straight, take them to the emergency department. The ED can address the injury quickly and recommend the best place for follow-up care. If your child’s pain is worsening but you don’t notice a deformity, they can be seen by their pediatrician or one of our pediatric orthopedic specialists. Most pediatricians don’t have the ability to apply a cast, and some don’t have x-ray equipment in their offices, so a visit to a pediatric orthopedist may be the fastest way to get your child on the road to recovery. If your child’s fracture goes into the growth plate, pediatric orthopedists have specialized knowledge to treat the fracture and make sure your child’s future growth is unaffected.

Q: How can parents ensure that their child recovers successfully from a fracture?

A: Fractures are very common in children, and children are great at healing, so most fractures heal within a few weeks to a month and usually will not have a long-term impact on your child’s health. However, if your child has multiple fractures in the span of a few months, we may recommend a deeper look into their bone health. Be mindful of the activity restrictions laid out by your doctor while your child is in a cast, and after the cast comes off, make sure they gradually return to higher-risk activities. Wait at least a month before letting your child back on the trampoline again, since your child’s bone is still vulnerable in the month or so after his or her cast comes off. And ask about a waterproof cast—it generally makes recovery easier when kids are allowed to swim and participate in other fun summer activities. Parents often ask me if eating or drinking more calcium-rich foods during recovery can help speed bone healing along. The answer is no, but it’s still important to have strong, healthy bones that come from good long-term calcium and vitamin D intake.

Dr. Meadows is a pediatric orthopedic surgeon. She sees patients in Pleasant Hill, in partnership with John Muir Health, and in San Francisco.

To learn more about Dr. Meadows and our team of pediatric orthopedists available to treat your child’s fracture in six Bay Area cities, please call (844) 41-ORTHO (67846). Same- and next-day appointments are available.

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