Sprains vs. Fractures: A Guide to Children's Common Injuries
Sep 13, 2013
on the playground can often lead to injuries for children, whether
falling from the monkey bars or taking a wrong turn in a soccer game.
Broken bones, sprains and strains are all common injuries among
children. Knowing how to spot them is the best way to help children heal
Telling the Difference
“A fracture is a broken bone, while a sprain involves a stretch or
partial tear of ligaments (which connect two bones),” says Harvey
Smires, MD . “Strains are injuries to muscles due to
A fracture is almost always accompanied by a snap or grinding noise.
Other symptoms include swelling, bruising or tenderness, difficulty
moving the injured part and pain when bearing weight or being touched.
Children can also be susceptible to a growth plate fracture, a unique
injury that can have debilitating consequences if not treated quickly.
Because children’s bones heal faster than adults’, treating a growth
plate injury as soon as possible is key.
plates are areas of developing cartilage tissue near the end of long
bones, and are the last parts of the bones to harden once a child is
full-grown. Until then, they are soft and susceptible to fracture,” says
Dr. Smires, who is board certified in orthopedic surgery. “In fact, up
to 30 percent of all childhood fractures are growth plate fractures.”
Sprains and strains are more common among teens. Signs may include
pain in the joint or muscle, redness of the injured area, swelling and
bruising, and difficulty moving the injured part.
When to Seek Care
When a fracture is suspected, see an orthopedic specialist as soon as
possible to get treatment before the bone begins to heal. With a severe
fracture, call 911 to get immediate care at the nearest emergency
With a sprain or strain, "RICE" is recommended for the first 48 hours after the injury:
- Rest. Rest the injured part until pain diminishes.
Wrap an icepack or cold compress in a towel and place over the injured
part immediately, for no more than 20 minutes at a time, four to eight
times a day.
- Compression. Support the injured part with an elastic compression bandage for at least two days.
- Elevation. Elevate the injured part above heart level to decrease swelling.
Doctors recommend ibuprofen or acetamenophin
for pain and to reduce swelling. If you are unsure about the type of
injury, or if symptoms worsen or fail to improve over five to seven
days, call your doctor as soon as possible.
Children’s bones heal faster than adults’, so they will not have to
stay in a cast or splint as long. Mild fractures may simply need a
splint or cast for support. More severe fractures may require surgery to
realign the bones and then pins, metal implants, or a cast to hold the
bones in place while they heal.
To find a doctor or orthopedic specialist with Princeton HealthCare
System, call 1.888.742.7496 or visit www.princetonhcs.org.