Children's Hospital Colorado

Growth Plate Injury

What is a growth plate?

Until they reach skeletal maturity, kids have growth plates, also sometimes called epiphysial plates or physes, in the long bones of their legs and arms. These growth plates are basically areas of rapidly growing cartilage located at either end of the bone. As the cartilage cells divide, they mature and stiffen into bone cells. It's through this process that the bones lengthen and grow.

Growth plate injuries happen when fractures or other bone injuries affect the growth plate. In some cases, parts of these injuries can heal as bone, rather than cartilage, effectively closing the growth plate before the bone matures. Because the bone can't grow as it normally would, this kind of injury can lead to deformities such as uneven limbs over time.

Who gets a growth plate injury?

Growth plates close up as teens reach late adolescence, usually around age 16 — a little earlier for girls than boys. Because adults don't have growth plates, these injuries happen in kids and teens, about twice as many boys as girls. Boys ages 14 to 16 are most likely to get them.

About 30% of the fractures we see in the Orthopedics Institute at Children's Hospital Colorado affect the growth plate. About 3% of those injuries may lead to the premature closure of the growth plate.

Growth plate injuries don't always involve obvious broken bones. Overuse injuries from sports such as baseball, gymnastics and ballet can lead to small "microfractures" that can affect the growth plate. Extreme, frostbite-inducing cold and even radiation from cancer treatment can injure growth plates as well. Some genetic disorders also affect the growth plate.