Summer can be a time of great fun; it also can be a time of many a broken bone, especially for kids who are in the kindergarten and early elementary school age groups.
They are outside playing more, jumping off of things, running around, etc.
For older kids, summer sports also can make a trip to orthopedics part of the "What I did last summer" essay.
Kids can be a challenge because sometimes a broken bone won't be obvious. There might not be obvious 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," says Dr. J.P. Rodriguez, an orthopedic surgeon specializing in sports medicine at Texas Orthopedics, Sports & Rehabilitation Associates. "They can break them and it won't swell as much ... it won't look as crooked."
A good test, Rodriguez says, is to compare the two sides of the body: the wrist you suspect might be broken versus the wrist you think is normal.
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 you compared it to the other wrist. Then the nurse could see that the bad wrist didn't curve inward like the other one did. "Well, that's broken," he says.
Kids often don't feel as much pain as adults do, but if a kid is complaining of pain an hour later, that's usually an indication that something is wrong and they should be seen by a doctor.
Rodriquez recommends going to either the emergency room at Dell Children's Medical Center of Central Texas, the emergency room at St. David's Children's Hospital at St. David's North Austin Medical Center, or an urgent care clinic at one of the orthopedics offices in town. The reason is those places will have a radiologist who specializes in reading fractures on X-rays and a pediatric orthopedist on call.
How fast you need to get there depends on where the break is, Rodriguez says. An elbow is something that needs to be fixed within 24 hours, whereas a wrist can wait awhile. You're not expected to know which bones need that immediate attention. When in doubt, try to get there within a day, certainly within that first week.
The big reason is the growth plate. Fractures where the growth plate has been displaced need to be corrected within the first two weeks or risk causing further damage, Rodriguez says.
If you don't go to a children's hospital or orthopedics urgent care clinic, make sure you take a copy of the X-rays with you, not just the report, and see a specialist within that first week to make sure nothing was missed.
You can't entirely protect your child from broken bones, Rodriguez says. The worst break he's seen recently was a girl who was just running across her yard and tripped.
"You want your kid to be able to play," Rodriguez says. "You can't protect them from everything."
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However, there are some things he calls no-brainers.
Wear bike helmets while riding bikes or scooters and make sure those helmets fit. He often sees kids wearing helmets that are too big for them. Look for an extra small if your kid is young.
Supervise play on the playground. Make sure they are using the equipment correctly. Even if you think to yourself that your kid is big enough to jump off a slide, your big kid is modeling behavior for little kids who are not big enough to jump off a slide. Those little kids can get hurt.
Don't slide with your child in your lap. There's something called a toddler's fracture. It happens when they are in your lap and their leg catches on the edge of the slide, but your adult-size momentum is being applied to that stuck leg. The force of your momentum breaks their leg. Instead, stand at the edge of the slide and guide them down or be ready to catch them at the bottom.
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.
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