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Fractures

Fracture Healing: The Road to Recovery

When your child has a fracture, one of your first questions may be: How long will it take to heal? And, if they need a cast, you might also want to know what, if any, accommodations need to be made for them at school while they’re healing.

While every injury is different, there are some general guidelines care providers can use to predict healing time. Here’s a look at the fracture healing process—and how to work with your child’s school to ensure this healing can go smoothly.


 

The 3 Stages of Fracture Healing

1. The body protects the broken bone.

A blood clot and callus form around the fracture site.

2. New bone cell growth begins.

New groups of bone cells grow toward each other from either side of the fracture.

3. The fracture line closes up, and the body absorbs the protective callus.


 

Getting the Right Treatment at the Right Time Matters

Because your child’s body goes to work repairing the fracture shortly after the injury occurs, getting proper treatment quickly is important. This means: 

  • If the bone is out of place, a pediatric orthopaedic specialist needs to realign it.
  • Even if the bone is still in place, it will need to be stabilized and protected.
  • Depending on the location and severity of the fracture, your child might be fitted with a brace or cast.

 

Different Bones Heal at Different Rates

Typical healing times include:

  • Lower arm: 4 to 6 weeks
  • Wrist: 4 to 8 weeks
  • Lower leg: 6 to 24 weeks
  • Ankle: 4 to 8 weeks 

 

Fracture Healing Time Depends on Many Factors

There are several factors that impact healing time. For instance: 

  • Children’s bones typically heal faster than adults’.
  • The severity of the fracture can impact healing time.
  • Getting the right nutrition—like lots of calcium—might help a bone heal faster.
  • Some chronic medical conditions—like diabetes—can slow down healing time.

Your child might think their splint or cast is clunky—or maybe kinda cool. But it plays a crucial role: Protecting the fracture while it heals. It also helps reduce pain, swelling, and muscle spasms.

But casts aren’t plug-and-play parts. They come with some instructions. It’s important for your child to follow the care provider’s instructions in order to speed up healing time.

Tips for At-Home Care

Here are 5 at-home splint and cast care tips to keep in mind as your child recovers from a fracture.

1. Help Your Child Reduce Swelling

The splint or cast might feel extra tight in the first 48 to 72 hours because of initial swelling. Keeping the swelling down can lower your child’s pain and promote proper healing.

Try to reduce swelling by: 

  • Elevating the injured area, especially in the first 24 to 72 hours
  • Maintaining movement in uninjured fingers or toes by gently moving them throughout the day
  • Placing an ice pack over the injured area on top of the cast or splint

 

2. Watch for Painful Swelling and Other Warning Signs

While some swelling is normal in the first few days after the injury, there are several warning signs that shouldn’t be ignored.

Contact your child’s care provider right away if they: 

  • Are in severe pain that is not relieved by pain medications
  • Have severe pain with movement of toes or fingers
  • Experience tingling or numbness in the injured limb
  • Feel a stinging or burning sensation under or near the cast
  • Have significant swelling above or below the cast (some swelling is normal)
  • Lose movement in their fingers or toes (depending on the location of the injury)
  • Develop a fever

 

3. Keep the Splint or Cast in Good Condition

You’ll need to make sure your child protects the cast or splint so that it can do its job of protecting their injury while the fracture heals.

This means they should: 

  • Keep dirt, sand, and powders away from the cast
  • Avoid pulling the padding out, even if it begins to come apart on its own
  • Leave any rough edges on the cast as-is until the cast technician can trim them properly
  • Be on the lookout for redness or rawness on their skin
  • Check the cast for cracks or soft spots. If you see any of these, contact their care provider.

 

4. Keep the Splint or Cast Dry

Getting a cast or splint wet—or even just damp—can weaken the plaster or padding and lead to skin irritation. With too much of this, your child could have to get the bones re-set.

Ask a member of your child’s care team for recommendations on how to make showering or bathing easier. But keep in mind that submerging a cast completely—even if it’s covered—is always risky.  


 

5. Don’t Put Anything in or Under the Splint or Cast

Casts and splints sometimes get itchy and smelly. But stay away from using powders for the smell, or stick-like objects for the itching.

Powders absorb moisture in the space between skin and cast. But instead of drying out, they will turn into an even smellier paste-like substance. Your best bet? Tough it out. Instead, count down the days until the cast will be gone.

To relieve the itchiness, you might want to try: 

  • Fanning cool air—such as from a hair dryer—into the space between skin and cast
  • Gently tapping on the outside of the splint or cast with a wooden spoon
  • Giving your child medication for severe itching (with the care provider’s permission)

Going to School With a Broken Arm, Leg, or Other Fracture

Going back to school with a broken arm, leg, foot, or other injury, can be tough. Your child might find just getting from class to class difficult—let alone keeping up with clubs and after-school activities.

But there are steps that can make the transition easier. Reach out to the school and ask to meet with your child’s teachers, guidance counselor, and school nurse before they return to class.

Together, you can create a plan to help your child stay on track once their care provider has cleared their return to school.


 

Getting Out of Homework Is Never That Easy

For instance, the school might: 

  • Provide your child with an extra set of textbooks to keep at home while they are recovering. That way, they don’t have to carry them back and forth.
  • Allow them to leave class a few minutes early so they can get to the next class in time—and not be jostled in the hallways.
  • Let your child use the elevators instead of the stairs.
  • Assign them a “buddy” to help them travel from class to class and carry their books or lunch tray for them.
  • Give them copies of class notes in class so they don’t have to write with an injured hand.
  • Allow your child to record lectures instead of hand-writing notes.
  • Give them extra time for tests and other assignments, if needed.
  • Let your child rest in the nurse’s office during the day.
  • Make an exception in the attendance policy for shortened school days while they are injured.

You might also want to make sure the school nurse or other staff members have a copy of the care provider’s instructions—including information on your child’s medications.

Together, you, the care provider, and school staff can make your child’s return to school with a broken arm, leg, or other fracture easier and less stressful.

If you have any questions about the fracture healing process, or if you need assistance communicating your child’s needs to their school, call us at: (213) 742-1000.