All growth plate injuries rely on early diagnosis and treatment to prevent long-term complications in skeletal growth and development; and an injury to the elbow growth plate is no different.
For children whose bodies have not yet reached full skeletal maturity, around ages 14 to 15 for girls and 16 to 17 for boys, proper treatment of an injured growth plate in the elbow is essential if your child wishes to return to his or her active lifestyle.
Causes of Elbow Growth Plate Injuries
Elbow growth plates are more common elbow injuries in children because the cartilage and bone in a growing child is weaker than the surrounding ligaments. Elbow growth plate fractures can occur due to a number of reasons that include:
- A fall on an elbow or outstretched hand
- Strain from repetitive motion (such as throwing a baseball)
- Hyperextension of the elbow joint
Children who actively participate in sports that require consistent elbow motion, such as baseball, tennis and golf, are more susceptible to elbow growth plate injuries due to the constant strain placed on the elbow. For example, “Little League Elbow” amongst baseball players is often associated with an injured growth plate in the elbow. This injury typically involves overuse at a young age, causing pain and inflammation around the inside part of the elbow (medial epicondyle).
Identifying an Injured Elbow Growth Plate
If your child is experiencing any of the following symptoms, it may be time to take him her to a physician to check for an elbow growth plate fracture:
- Acute trauma associated with severe pain near the elbow
- Significant swelling or bruising near the elbow joint
- Inability to move the elbow joint
- Elbow appears misshapen or out of place
- Numbness, tingling and/or shooting pain down the arm
Because children heal faster than adults, it is important to take your child to the doctor quickly for an acute injury. For activity-related injuries that cause pain for an extended period of time, also consider having your child evaluated. The pediatric elbow can be complicated and may require the expertise of a Pediatric Orthopedic Specialist.
Treating Elbow Growth Plate Fractures
While most elbow growth plate fractures will heal without complications, your child’s physician may recommend a variety of treatment methods to ensure proper healing over time. These can include:
- Prolonged periods of rest to allow time for healing
- Strengthening and light stretching exercises to stabilize the joint
- Using a sling or cast to limit mobility for moderate-severe injuries
- Surgery to correct more severe elbow growth plate injuries
As with any injury, it is important to recognize the signs and symptoms, and seek treatment in a timely manner. If you suspect your child has suffered an injured or fractured elbow growth plate, we encourage you to contact our physicians to schedule an appointment.
More general information on growth plate injuries here.