Children's Hospital Colorado

Broken Bones

What is a broken bone?

Broken bones (also called bone fractures) are a common injury in kids, teens and young adults usually caused by a fall or from sports. Broken bones are a common football injury, wrestling injury or ski/snowboarding injury. Most fractures occur in the bones on the upper part of the body, like the wrist, forearm and above the elbow (because when we fall, it's a natural instinct to reach out our hands in an attempt to break the fall).

Younger kids' bones are more likely to bend than break completely because they're more pliable. As kids get older, their bones mature, making them more likely to break completely.

The typical signs of a bone fracture are pain, swelling and deformity (which looks like a bump or change in shape of the bone or limb). No matter where the break is or how small it may seem, all broken bones need to be checked out by a doctor.

Types of bone fractures

There are several different types of bone fractures, which affect the way doctors at Children’s Hospital Colorado will treat your child’s broken bone:

  • A buckle fracture is an incomplete break that happens in younger kids’ bones.
  • A complete fracture is when the bone has broken into two pieces.
  • A greenstick fracture is when the bone cracks on one side only, not all the way through.
  • A comminuted fracture is when the bone is broken into more than two pieces or crushed.
  • An open (or compound) fracture is when the bone is sticking through the skin.
  • A bowing fracture, which only happens in kids, is when the bone bends but doesn't break.


What are the signs and symptoms of a broken bone?

Possible signs and symptoms of a broken bone are:

  • A snapping or grinding noise during an injury, fall, collision, etc.
  • Swelling, bruising and tenderness of the injured area
  • The injured body part is difficult to move or hurts when moved, touched, or bearing weight
  • The injured part looks deformed. In severe breaks, the broken bone might poke through the skin.

What should I do if I think my child has a broken bone?

  • Seek immediate medical attention.
  • Keep the injured body part in the position you found it (moving around can make it worse).
  • Put a splint on the extremity (arm, leg, etc.) in order to protect it and prevent further motion.
  • Apply an ice pack wrapped in cloth.
  • Do not allow your child to eat in case surgery is required.

How is a broken bone diagnosed?

Your child’s doctor at Children’s Hospital Colorado will order an x-ray to get a better look at the bone. This will help determine if the bone is broken and the type of fracture. X-rays also help doctors see to set the bones back in the original position.

Learn more about x-rays and radiology at Children’s Colorado.

How are broken bones treated in kids?

The vast majority of broken bones in children can be treated without surgery. At Children’s Hospital Colorado, we’ll assess your child’s bone fracture and determine if it needs to be realigned (reduced).

Casting is a very common method of immobilization (keeping the bone still) to protect the limb until it has a chance to heal.

How do we know it’s broken?

To be sure your child has a broken bone, x-rays will likely need to be taken to confirm the diagnosis. See a map of our emergency and urgent care locations.

Why choose Children’s Hospital Colorado for your child’s broken bone?

Children's bones and bodies aren't just smaller than adults' – they're physically different and require different medical knowledge and equipment for proper diagnosis and treatment. For example, kids’ bones have growth plates (adults’ do not), which makes pediatric x-rays harder to read.

At Children’s Colorado, we aim to get the x-ray right the first time and with as few films as possible. This helps protect our patients’ long-term health because children are more susceptible to radiation.

Reading the x-ray correctly and setting the bone properly when a growth plate is involved are critical to normal growth in that bone – and that’s why kids need a pediatric hospital.

To learn more about how our sports medicine clinic helps children with broken bones from specific sports, see the football sports medicine page, the lacrosse sports medicine page and more.

Expert orthopedic, emergency and urgent care

At Children’s Colorado, our pediatric specialists provide expert fracture management geared specifically to children and young adults. At the Orthopedics Institute and at all of our emergency and urgent-care locations, everyone from the doctor to lab tech specializes in pediatrics. Each location is also directly connected to our main campus in Aurora and has access to a pediatric emergency medicine specialist at all times.

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