Greenstick fractures: what they are, what the symptoms are and how to treat them
A greenstick fracture occurs when a bone bends and cracks, instead of breaking completely into separate pieces. The fracture looks similar to what happens when you try to break a small, “green” branch on a tree
Most greenstick fractures occur in children younger than 10 years of age. This type of broken bone most commonly occurs in children because their bones are softer and more flexible than are the bones of adults
Even mild greenstick fractures are usually immobilized in a cast. In addition to holding the cracked pieces of the bone together so they can heal, a cast can help prevent the bone from breaking all the way through if the child falls on it again.
Symptoms of greenstick fracture
Signs and symptoms will vary, depending on the severity of the greenstick fracture.
Mild fractures might be mistaken for sprains or bruises.
More-severe greenstick fractures may cause an obvious deformity, accompanied by significant pain and swelling.
Greenstick fracture: causes
Childhood fractures most commonly occur with a fall.
Arm fractures are more common than leg fractures, since the common reaction is to throw out your arms to catch yourself when you fall.
Greenstick fracture: risk factors
The risk of greenstick fractures is higher in young children because their bones are softer and more flexible than adult bones.
In a greenstick fracture, the bone bends and cracks instead of breaking into separate pieces. Most greenstick fractures occur in children under age 10.
During the physical exam, your doctor will inspect the affected area for tenderness, swelling, deformity, numbness or an open wound.
Your child may be asked to move his or her fingers into certain patterns or motions to check for nerve damage.
Your doctor may also examine the joints above and below the fracture.
X-rays can reveal most greenstick fractures.
Your doctor may want to take X-rays of the uninjured limb, for comparison purposes.
Depending on the severity of the greenstick fracture, the doctor may need to straighten the bone manually so it will heal properly.
Your child will receive pain medication and possibly sedation drugs for this procedure.
Greenstick fractures have a high risk of breaking completely through the bone, so most of these types of fractures are immobilized in a cast during healing.
On occasion, your doctor may decide that a removable splint could work just as well, particularly if the break is mostly healed.
The benefit of a splint is that your child might be able to take it off briefly for a bath or shower.
X-rays are required in a few weeks to make sure the fracture is healing properly, to check the alignment of the bone, and to determine when a cast is no longer needed.
Most greenstick fractures require four to eight weeks for complete healing, depending on the break and the age of the child.