By Ehren Allen, Certified Manual Therapist/Physical Therapist
What are Growth Plates?
A growth plate is the area of a child or teen’s bone where new bone growth occurs. Growth plates are made up of a rubber and flexible material called cartilage, and cartilage is a smooth elastic tissue that acts as rubber-like padding that protects to ends of the long bones. Most growth plates can be found near the end of long bones in the body, which are bones considered longer than they are wide. The common long bones with growth plates are as follows:
- The femur: AKA thigh bone.
- The fibula and tibia: AKA lower leg bones.
- The radius and ulna: AKA forearm.
- The bones in the hand and feet.
What does a Growth Plate do?
While there is more than one way for bones to grow, growth plates are the most common. They are usually located on each end of a long bone in children and they add both length and width to the long bones. As kids reach the end of puberty, the growth plates will eventually harden into permanent bone. Once a growth plate has hardened completely into solid bone it is considered closed and there is no longer any more bone growth on the ends of the long bones.
Common Issues with Growth Plates
Since the growth plate is weaker than solid bone, it is more often injured in kids and teens. Some common problems that occur in growth plates are fractures and overuse stress injuries.
Growth plate fractures are considered a break in the growth plate. The most common places of bone growth fractures are in the fingers, forearm, and lower leg. While most fractures in the growth plates heal there can be complications due to the continued growth of the bone. Sometimes the bones can grow crooked and misaligned depending on the break. It may also cause one bone to be shorter than the other if the growth plate is disrupted with a bad fracture or for too long. Fractures of the growth plate occur twice as often in boys as in girls due to the closing sooner and hardening of the plate into solid bone.
Stress injuries to growth plates occur from overuse and repetitive stress on the bones in kids and teens. Kids who are in sports with repetitive running and jumping will often incur stress injuries to their growth plate. Some repetitive injuries can include Osgood-Schlatter disease, jumper’s knee, and Sever’s disease.
If you think your child is suffering from an overuse injury or has a break in a long bone, do not hesitate to seek medical attention. Even though the injury may not seem extreme, make sure it is diagnosed in time to avoid future issues like differences in length and crooked growth.
JOI Fracture and Injury Care
JOI Physicians are currently offering ASAP fracture and injury care. This is a new option for patients who would like to avoid the emergency room if they have suffered a fracture or soft tissue injury. To learn more about this service, read this article about fracture and injury care.
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