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Fractures

Frequently Asked Questions About Fracture Treatment and Recovery

Fractures aren’t pretty, but they’re fairly common for children. The good news is that children usually do well if they receive the right treatment, right away. 

But this doesn’t mean that, as a parent, you won’t have questions for the care provider. Knowing the answers doesn’t just put your mind at ease—it can also pave the way for you to take an active role in your child’s recovery. 

Here are the answers to a few frequently asked questions about fracture treatment and recovery.


 

How are fractures treated?

The type of fracture treatment your child will receive depends on the location and severity of the break.  

  • Most breaks can be treated without surgery.
  • Some breaks do need surgery. Some surgeries require an incision to be made. Others can be accomplished without an incision. If your child has surgery, they might receive metal plates, pins, or some other object to help hold the bone in place.
    • They might sound startling, but these plates and pins can stabilize and support a severely fractured bone. Your child’s care provider will give you more information about these devices and how long your child will need them.
  • In both cases, digital X-rays are used to guide care providers in setting the bone correctly. This process is called fracture reduction. 

Once the bones have been realigned, your child will be fitted with a splint cast to protect the injury while it heals.


 

What happens if my child needs a cast?

Casts have two main parts: 

  • A layer of padding—sometimes cotton, sometimes synthetic material—that goes between your child’s skin and the hard cast material
  • The cast material—usually either plaster or fiberglass—that forms the protective outer shell 

Well, three, if you count the cast technician.  

The cast technician sometimes places a stocking around the padding to keep it intact underneath the cast’s shell. 

The fiberglass or plaster used to form the shell of the cast needs to be wet when it’s placed onto your child’s arm or leg. But once the material dries, it needs to stay dry. Keeping it dry allows it to stay hard and protect the bones while they heal. 

If your child’s injury is swollen at first, they might need to receive a new cast later on after the swelling has gone down. 

And because casts are meant to support and protect healing bones, they often have to extend beyond the injured area. 

Healing time for broken bones can vary from several weeks to several months, depending on the fracture and the patient. When it is time for the cast to be removed, the cast technician will use a special tool called a cast saw to cut it off. And no, the saw will not chop off the healing arm or leg. It is specially designed to cut only casts, not skin. 

Even if your child says they are no longer in pain, it is important that they keep the cast on—and in good condition—until the care provider removes it.


 

Can my child’s cast get wet?

Casts are not waterproof. Getting a cast wet can compromise your child’s recovery.  

While there are products on the market that claim to protect casts from water damage, always ask your child’s care provider what they would recommend before purchasing and using them.


 

Can my child go to school during recovery?

Yes. In most cases, children can continue to attend school during recovery from fracture treatment, though the school might have to modify your child’s assignments, activities, and schedule.


 

Are there any activities my child should avoid during recovery?

Your child’s care provider can give you a list of activities your child should avoid. In general, anything that involves putting pressure on the injured limb—or risking further injury—is too dangerous. This includes most sports.  


 

What does follow-up care look like after fracture reduction?

If your child didn’t have surgery, their care provider will have them come back several times over the next six weeks to ensure the fracture is healing smoothly.  It is important to come to these appointments on time so alignment can be checked.  

Sometimes, even in a great cast, a fracture can move out of place. It is important that the care provider fix it before there is too much improper healing.  

If your child had surgery, post-surgical follow-up care will typically include:  

  • Week 1: Wear a splint.
  • Week 2: Receive a full cast.
  • Week 4: Remove the cast and any pins that were inserted during surgery. At this point, your child can begin to move the injured limb, but should still refrain from most physical activities. If plates or screws were used, these are sometimes removed about 6 months after surgery.
  • Week 8 to 12: Return to normal activity. 

If your child’s fracture involved a growth plate injury, the care provider might want to monitor their progress using X-rays for 4 to 6 months. This will help ensure that the bone growth is continuing normally. 

Bone Fracture Surgery: A Behind-the-Scenes Look  

Here’s the honest-to-goodness truth: Sometimes you just gotta have surgery. At OIC, we usually try to treat a bone fracture without surgery. But sometimes, it’s the best option. The care provider will consider recommending surgery for your child when: 

  • The bone is severely displaced (moved out of its correct location)
  • The fracture is open—the bone has broken through the skin
  • Non-surgical methods (e.g., casting, manipulation) have not properly corrected the deformity
  • A child has severe pain, numbness, or tingling, even with non-surgical treatment

 

If your child needs surgery for a fracture, it’s normal to have plenty of questions. Here are answers to some of the most common questions parents ask about their child’s upcoming surgery:

What are the main types of surgery?

At OIC, we usually treat most fractures. The most common are elbow, ankle, knee, and forearm fractures.  

There are two main types of surgery:

1. Manipulation and percutaneous fixation

Often used for elbow fractures

The fractured bone is gently pushed back into place, and the surgeon places pins through the skin to keep the bone in place. This procedure doesn’t require an incision (cut).

2. Open reduction and internal fixation

Used for ankle and forearm fractures

The surgeon makes an incision down to the site of the fracture. The pieces of the broken bone are put back in place and held together with a metal device.


 

Will my child be awake during surgery?

Most of these surgeries require general anesthesia. That means your child will be given medication to make them fall into a deep sleep. They won’t feel anything during the surgery or remember the surgery afterward.  

For some fractures—particularly in the ankle or knee—the anesthesiologist can use a regional block. This is a special type of medicine that numbs the area where the surgery will happen.  

When a regional block is used, pain levels can be lower for the first 24 hours after the procedure.


 

How long does surgery take?

This depends significantly on the type on injury and how bad the injury is.  Sometimes, surgery can take longer than expected, but that doesn’t mean that something is wrong in surgery.


 

When will my child be able to go home?

Most of these surgeries can be performed in our Ambulatory Surgery Center, meaning your child can go home the same day. Your child will need a brief period of recovery, but you will most likely be able to head home within a few hours of the procedure.


 

What about pain after the surgery?

Your child may have some pain after the surgery. Elevation of the limb and pain medication can help with that  These drugs won’t take the pain away completely, but they will make it much more bearable and keep your child comfortable.


 

How long is recovery?

It varies, but most fractures heal within 4 to 12 weeks. Your child will most likely have some sort of immobilization, like a cast or splint, to keep the bone in place.  

Recovery can be a long process, but it’s important not to rush through it—especially when it comes to weight-bearing (putting moderate to heavy weight on the broken limb or region).  

We want your child to recover and progress quickly, but soon after the surgery, kids need to avoid weight-bearing in order to lower the risk of the bone slipping out of place.


 

What happens afterward?

We usually see patients for a follow-up appointment within 7 to 10 days of the surgery. You can help by encouraging your child to keep up with the treatment plan—going to follow-up appointments, keeping the cast on, going to physical therapy if prescribed. If there are no complications, another surgery shouldn’t be needed.