Particular paediatric points

Published on 01/04/2015 by admin

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Last modified 01/04/2015

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Particular paediatric points

Bones in children are different14

“A child is not a small adult …”

This truism is particularly important in relation to paediatric bone injuries1

The end of a long bone in a child

You need to be familiar with the normal radiographic appearance of the ends of the long bones in children. This will help you to detect the important injuries and will also protect you from labelling a normal developmental appearance as being abnormal.

A persistent lucent line is normal

A child’s long bone grows in length initially by forming layers of cartilage and gradually converting that cartilage into bone. This layering process takes place at the end of the bone at the site of the physis (also called the epiphyseal plate or the growth plate). The physis is made of cartilage and lies between the epiphysis and the diaphysis. Cartilage is lucent on a radiograph. The cartilaginous physis remains as a radiographic lucency until the child reaches skeletal maturity and stops growing. At that time the lucent physis fuses to the metaphysis (and also to the epiphysis). When fusion occurs the linear lucency that was the physis disappears.

Parts of the skeleton are not missing

An epiphysis is a secondary centre of ossification at the end of a long bone. Each epiphysis is initially composed solely of cartilage. As a consequence it looks as though nothing is there (take a look at a new born baby’s elbow region). Of course each of the epiphyses is present, but present as a radiolucent blob of cartilage. These invisible blobs enlarge slowly with age. Eventually they begin to ossify at their centres and become visible. Finally, these blobs of bone will fuse to the physis at maturity.

Fracture sites1,3

“The key to accurate diagnosis is a precisely accurate assessment of the radiographs.”2

Epiphyseal–metaphyseal (Salter–Harris) fractures

The growth plate (the physis) is a very vulnerable structure. The joint capsule, the surrounding ligaments and the muscle tendons are all much stronger than the cartilaginous physis.

A shearing or avulsion force applied to a joint is most likely to result in an injury at the weakest point, ie a fracture through the growth plate.

Most growth plate injuries will heal well without any resultant deformity. However, in a few patients, failure to recognise a growth plate injury may result in suboptimal treatment with a risk of premature fusion resulting in limb shortening. If only a part of the growth plate is injured, unequal growth may lead to deformity and disability.

Salter–Harris fracture: five types

Type 5.

Impaction fracture of the entire growth plate. There is little or no malalignment and it is usually impossible to make the diagnosis on the initial radiographs. This is the most significant of the Salter–Harris injuries. The plate may fuse prematurely with consequent limb shortening. The diagnosis, and consequently optimal management, depends on a high degree of suspicion following clinical examination.

Metaphyseal–diaphyseal fractures

When a child’s long bone is subjected to a longitudinal compression force (such as a fall on an outstretched hand), this can result in two common but different types of injury in the region of the metaphysis and proximal diaphysis.

Torus fracture.

Results from a longitudinal compression force with little or no angulation. The axial loading is distributed evenly across the metaphysis (right). There are microfractures of the trabeculae at the injured site.

The commonest sites for a torus fracture are the distal radius and/or ulna.

The fracture is often subtle and appears as a ripple, a wave, an indent or a slight bump/bulge in the cortex. The bulge may be seen at both cortices or at one cortex only.


Fractures: some synonyms3

The word “Torus” is derived from the latin word for a bulge.

Greenstick fracture.

A Greenstick fracture results from an angulation force.

There is a break in the cortex on one side of the bone. The opposite cortex remains intact. This occurs because of the very thick and elastic periosteum.

There is usually some angulation at the fracture site, although this can be slight and subtle.


Diaphyseal fractures6,7

A diaphyseal fracture: a break in the shaft of a long bone, well away from an epiphysis.

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