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Managing Sports-Related Fractures

Smiling asian preteen girl lying in hospital bed with broken arm in colored cast

Identifying A Fracture

As parents, it’s crucial to be vigilant when it comes to our young athletes’ health, especially when they’re involved in sports. One common injury that can occur is a fracture. Identifying a fracture early can make a significant difference in the recovery process. Signs to look out for include swelling, bruising, pain, tenderness, difficulty bearing weight, and visible deformity. If your child experiences any of these symptoms after a sports-related incident, it’s essential to seek medical attention promptly to ensure proper diagnosis and treatment.

Common Signs Of Different Types Of Fractures

Fractures can vary in severity and location, and recognizing the signs of different types of fractures can aid in prompt treatment. For instance, stress fractures, common in young athletes due to repetitive stress on bones, may manifest as localized pain during or after activity, accompanied by swelling or tenderness at the site. In contrast, more severe fractures, such as compound fractures, may cause obvious deformity or an open wound at the injury site.

Acute fractures result from sudden, traumatic events and may include simple fractures, where the bone breaks cleanly, or compound fractures, where the bone pierces the skin. On the other hand, overuse fractures, like stress fractures, develop gradually over time due to repetitive motion, especially common in areas like the shin or foot. Recognizing the distinction between these types of fractures can help parents understand the nature of their child’s injury and determine the appropriate course of action for treatment and prevention.

Broken Bone Vs. Fracture

A broken bone is also referred to as a bone fracture. Although the use of both words might suggest they represent distinct types of injuries, they are interchangeable terms describing the same injury. Orthopedists classify broken bones based on several factors: 

  • Whether the bone is open or closed, indicates if it has pierced the skin. 
  • Whether the fracture is partial or complete, describing whether the break extends through only part of the bone or all the way through. 
  • Whether the bone is displaced or nondisplaced, indicating whether the broken pieces of bone still align properly.

A fracture is not always immediately apparent. Symptoms may include tenderness, pain, swelling, bruising, and limited mobility, like those of a sprain. With larger broken bones, the break may be visible either beneath or protruding through the skin. Sometimes, the child may not initially realize they’ve broken anything, either due to shock or the location of the break. However, a broken bone often presents with a deeper-than-usual ache or sharp pain, indicating the need for prompt medical attention and evaluation.

How To Diagnosis a Broken Bone

Diagnosing a broken bone in a child requires careful evaluation by an orthopedist. If a fracture cannot be confirmed through a physical examination alone, your doctor may opt for additional imaging tests such as an X-ray to obtain a clear visual of the injury. Once the imaging reveals the fracture, a pediatric orthopedist can accurately diagnose the exact type of bone fracture and determine the best course of action for supporting the healing process. It’s crucial to seek care from a pediatric orthopedic practice, as specialists in this field are familiar with the unique bone structures and growth stages of children. This specialized knowledge ensures that the fracture is treated appropriately, considering the child’s age and developmental stage.

Visiting An Orthopedist

When to visit → should I go to an ER first? What is the process like?

If your child experiences a fracture or significant injury during sports activities, it’s essential to assess the severity promptly. While minor injuries can often be managed with rest, ice, compression, and elevation (R.I.C.E), you should visit your child’s pediatric orthopedist for an evaluation if you suspect your child may have suffered a sports-related injury. Some warning signs include persistent limb favoring or swollen joints lasting more than a few days, especially in children under 10, who are more susceptible to fractures due to softer bones. Additionally, unexplained limping in younger children or resistance to weight-bearing activities in young athletes may signal underlying issues requiring attention from a specialist. As children engage in more intensive sports participation across multiple seasons, the risk of overuse injuries increases, making it crucial to address symptoms such as persistent pain or instability. 

While urgent care centers, such as the one at The Pediatric Orthopedic Center are suitable for recent, acute injuries, severe orthopedic injuries like open fractures or deep lacerations require immediate attention at an emergency room. However, for non-acute, pre-existing orthopedic conditions or gradual injuries, scheduling an appointment with a pediatric orthopedist during our regular office hours is advisable.

Urgent Care vs. the Emergency Room

Urgent care appointments are ideal for recent, untreated, acute injuries occurring within the past few days, including sprains, strains, and fractures. At The Pediatric Orthopedic Center’s Urgent Care/Walk-in Clinic, we provide immediate treatment for orthopedic conditions that require prompt attention but are not life-threatening. For severe orthopedic injuries such as open fractures, deep lacerations, excessive bleeding, head trauma, significant deformity, or obvious dislocations, it’s crucial to visit your local emergency room or call 911 for immediate medical intervention. 

Urgent care centers are equipped to address acute orthopedic concerns efficiently, offering specialized care during extended hours without the lengthy wait times often associated with emergency room visits. By recognizing the distinction between urgent care and emergency room needs, parents can ensure their child receives timely and appropriate orthopedic care tailored to the severity of their injury. 

What To Expect 

Visiting a pediatric orthopedist can be a reassuring step in addressing your child’s sports-related injuries. At The Pediatric Orthopedic Center, our priority is providing comprehensive care tailored to your child’s unique needs. During the appointment, the orthopedist will conduct a thorough medical history review and physical examination, ensuring a comprehensive understanding of the injury’s nature and potential underlying factors. This process includes discussing any pain or symptoms experienced by your child and examining their ability to perform certain activities. For young children unable to articulate discomfort, the orthopedist may observe their movements for signs of pain or injury. Depending on the assessment, diagnostic imaging such as X-rays, CT scans, or MRIs may be performed to visualize the affected bone, joint, or muscle accurately. Treatment options range from non-invasive measures like casts, braces, and physical therapy for mild injuries to surgical intervention for more severe cases. With our specialized expertise in pediatric orthopedics, we prioritize creating a supportive and comfortable environment for children and their families, ensuring an optimal healing journey from diagnosis to recovery.

Common Treatments for A Fracture

When a child experiences a fracture, the body initiates its natural healing process almost immediately. Initially, the site of the fracture will swell, and blood will clot to kickstart repair. Over the ensuing weeks, collagen is sent to the area, forming a stiffer callus in place of the clot, followed by essential minerals to fortify the bone. Even after the cast is removed and normal activities resume, the site of the fracture continues to strengthen and harden over time. In most cases, the body’s healing mechanisms, supported by a hard cast and restricted movement, suffice for proper fracture repair. This underscores the importance of consulting a trusted pediatric orthopedist to ensure the bones are correctly aligned and supported for optimal healing. However, more severe fractures may necessitate surgical intervention. Orthopedic surgeons may employ screws, rods, or wires to stabilize and align the broken bone(s) for healing. Monitoring your child’s progress post-treatment involves observing signs such as decreased pain and bruising without the need for painkillers, reduced swelling, and increased range of motion in the affected limb.


Splinting and casting are common non-surgical treatments for fractures, particularly those that are stable and do not require surgical intervention. A splint or cast serves to immobilize the affected limb, allowing the fractured bone to heal properly without undue movement. Splints are typically applied initially to accommodate potential swelling, providing temporary stabilization until a more permanent cast can be applied. Casts, made from materials like plaster or fiberglass, are then molded around the injured area to maintain alignment and support during the healing process. These immobilization devices prevent further injury and promote bone union by keeping the fractured ends in close proximity. While casts are rigid and provide robust support, splints offer flexibility and are often used in the early stages of treatment when swelling is a concern. The duration of splinting or casting varies depending on the severity and location of the fracture, with regular follow-up appointments to monitor progress and make adjustments as necessary. Patients are typically advised to avoid bearing weight on the injured limb and to follow prescribed care instructions to ensure optimal healing.


In cases where a fracture affects mobility or stability, additional supportive measures such as crutches or slings may be prescribed to facilitate recovery. Crutches are often recommended for lower limb fractures, allowing patients to offload weight from the injured limb while maintaining mobility. They come in various types, including underarm crutches and forearm crutches, each offering different levels of support and comfort. Proper fitting and adjustment are crucial to ensure safe and effective use, preventing strain on other parts of the body. Slings, on the other hand, are commonly utilized for upper limb fractures, providing support and immobilization to the injured arm or shoulder. They help alleviate pain, reduce swelling, and promote healing by restricting movement and preventing further injury. Patients are instructed on proper sling positioning and usage to optimize comfort and aid in the healing process. While crutches and slings are valuable aids in fracture management, it is essential for patients to adhere to prescribed guidelines and attend follow-up appointments to monitor progress and ensure timely recovery.


Upon learning that their child has sustained a fracture, many parents wonder whether treatment will necessitate surgery. The decision hinges on various factors carefully evaluated by pediatric orthopedists when devising a treatment plan. Remarkably, children possess a robust healing response, allowing for successful treatment of the vast majority of pediatric fractures without surgery. Key considerations include the degree of displacement of the fracture, as children’s bones are typically less displaced and fragmented than those of adults. Additionally, children exhibit faster recovery rates. Age plays a crucial role in assessing remodeling capacity, with younger children more adept at restoring normal anatomical alignment during healing. Orthopedists meticulously evaluate fracture location, relationship to joints, and deformity severity to determine the optimal treatment approach. While surgical intervention expedites healing and recovery, it is reserved for cases where conservative methods may yield suboptimal outcomes. 

What To Do During The Healing Process

Addressing injuries like fractures requires a comprehensive approach to support the healing process effectively. While rest, anti-inflammatories, and compression can help alleviate pain, it’s essential to give the body the time it needs to heal properly.

Managing Pain

Effective pain management is crucial during the healing process. Utilizing techniques such as applying a compression bandage around the surgical site, frequent icing of the area to reduce swelling, and elevating the limb can help alleviate discomfort. Additionally, performing therapeutic exercises to improve joint range of motion and considering a nerve block administered by an anesthesiologist may be necessary to prevent or alleviate severe pain temporarily. It’s important to follow the recommendations of your healthcare provider and use over-the-counter pain relievers or prescribed medications as directed to manage pain effectively.

Keeping The Cast Clean

Maintaining cleanliness around the cast is essential to prevent infections and complications. Avoid getting the cast wet, and if it becomes damp or soiled, consult your healthcare provider for guidance on how to clean or protect it. Refrain from inserting objects inside the cast to scratch an itch, as this can lead to skin irritation or damage. By keeping the cast clean and dry, you can support the healing process and reduce the risk of complications during recovery.

Limiting Activity, What’s Allowed/What’s Not

In the journey toward recovery from sports-related injuries like fractures, it’s imperative to understand the role of activity limitation in facilitating healing and preventing further harm. Overuse therapy, often facilitated through physical therapy, plays a vital role in this process, addressing weaknesses and imbalances that may contribute to injuries. Physical therapy interventions often involve targeted stretching exercises aimed at improving flexibility and range of motion. However, as the healing progresses, a gradual return to activity is necessary, emphasizing the importance of adequate rest, with at least two days off per week. 

After The Injury

When Is PT Needed?

Physical therapy becomes a crucial component, especially in cases of overuse injuries. Overuse therapy, a subset of physical therapy, assumes a pivotal role not only in the rehabilitation process but also in preventing future injuries. It delves into identifying weaknesses, particularly around vulnerable areas like the shoulder, which may impact adjacent joints such as the elbow. Physical therapists employ various techniques, including stretching exercises, to address these weaknesses and restore functionality. By targeting specific muscle groups and addressing imbalances, physical therapy not only aids in the recovery from the current injury but also helps fortify the body against potential future injuries. 

Transitioning Back Into Normal Life

Navigating life after a sports-related injury, such as a fracture, involves a delicate balance between recovery and reintroduction to physical activity. While the desire to return to normalcy may be strong, it’s essential to approach the process gradually and with caution. A key aspect of transitioning back to a normal life post-injury involves a gradual return to activity after complete recovery. This gradual approach allows the body to acclimate to increased demands gradually, reducing the risk of re-injury. Equally important is ensuring adequate rest, with at least two days off per week, to allow for proper recovery and rejuvenation of tired muscles and joints. Listening to the body becomes paramount during this time, with athletes advised to avoid pushing through pain or discomfort. Recognizing and respecting the body’s signals can prevent setbacks and promote a safe return to play. By incorporating these crucial steps into the transition process, individuals can navigate their journey back to normal life with confidence and minimize the risk of reaggravating their injury.

See TPOC for Sports-Related Fractures

If you suspect your child has a sports-related injury, contact The Pediatric Orthopedic Center at (973) 538-7700 or by filling out the request an appointment form. The Pediatric Orthopedic Center is the premier NJ hub for pediatric orthopedics, with three offices throughout northern NJ. Having been the leader in pediatric orthopedics in this area for over 25 years, we are the largest and most award-winning pediatric orthopedic practice in the tri-state area.

Schedule an Appointment with a Specialist Today

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Know Before Your First Visit

Verify the date and time of your appointment. You may be required to complete new patient paperwork or provide personal information prior to being seen by your doctor. Please arrive approximately 30 minutes prior to your appointment time.

Confirm the address and location of your appointment. The Pediatric Orthopedic Center has four convenient locations in New Jersey. Confirm with the front desk staff the office location for your visit.

Be aware of travel issues and delays. Be mindful of any driving conditions, road construction detours and parking requirements to ensure you arrive for your appointment on time.

Urgent Care for Acute Injuries (Cedar Knolls)

Walk-In Hours Update

*Urgent and Acute Injuries Only during Urgent Care/Walk-in Clinic hours. To find out if your child’s injury qualifies for a walk-in visit, click here. (Walk-in fees may apply.)


Regular Hours: 9am-5pm
Walk-in Hours* (Cedar Knolls): 5pm-8pm


Regular Hours: 9am-5pm
Walk-in Hours* (Cedar Knolls): 5pm-8pm


Regular Hours: 9am-5pm
Walk-in Hours* (Cedar Knolls): 5pm-8pm


Regular Hours: 9am-5pm
Walk-in Hours* (Cedar Knolls): 5pm-8pm


Regular Hours: 8am-5pm
NO walk-in hours.


Walk-in Hours* (Cedar Knolls): 10am-2pm

Sunday: Closed

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