Injuries happen to kids, in school, in sports or at home in the back yard. Looking for what is different is the key to getting the right medical attention when a child is injured.
The start of school, especially for students involved in sports, can be a time of many injuries, and sometimes it is hard to tell how serious that sore knee, stiff neck or bruised arm really is.
Kids can be a challenge for orthopedists because sometimes a broken bone won’t be obvious. There might not be visible swelling or a deformity like you would find in an adult because kids’ bones are softer than adult bones.
“If I broke my arm, it would be swelling up,” said Dr. J.P. Rodriguez, an orthopedic surgeon specializing in sports medicine at Texas Orthopedics Sports & Rehabilitation Associates in Austin. “But kids can break them and it won’t swell as much ... it won’t look as crooked.”
A good test, Rodriguez said, is to compare the two sides of the body: see if the wrist injury suspect looks any different than the wrist considered normal on the same child.
That’s the test Rodriguez asked his daughter’s school nurse to use when his daughter fell off a slide. Her wrist didn’t look broken until compared it to the other wrist. The nurse could see that the bad wrist didn’t curve inward like the other one did.
Kids often don’t feel as much pain as adults do, too, but if a kid is complaining of pain an hour later, that’s usually an indication that something is wrong and he should be seen by a doctor.
Rodriguez recommended going to either the emergency room or an urgent care clinic at an orthopedics office. The reason is that those places will have a radiologist who specializes in reading fractures on X-rays and a pediatric orthopedist on call.
Injury location dictates how fast to get to a doctor, Rodriguez said. An elbow needs to be fixed within 24 hours, whereas a wrist can wait a while. Parents or coaches in doubt should try to get there within a day, certainly within that first week.
The big reason is the growth plate. Fractures in which the growth plate has been displaced need to be corrected within the first two weeks or risk causing further damage, Rodriguez said.
The good thing is, kids heal quickly. Often it’s about four weeks in a cast and they are back to normal. If they are in a cast, watch out for numbness or color changes to the skin in that area. That warrants another trip to the ER.