A Guide to Good Health

Understanding Why Children's Ankle Injuries Can Be So Serious

Kids are often viewed as accident-prone and resilient. For the most part, they are. That's why it's so common for parents to tell their kids to "walk it off" if they get hurt when they are playing. Usually, they are only mildly hurt and they are fine after a few minutes. However, some injuries that your child might sustain are a greater cause for concern in them than they would be if they happened to you. Ankle injuries can be one of them. Here's what you need to know.

Why Are Ankle Injuries More Concerning For Kids?

Parents often dismiss ankle injuries in kids under the assumption that it's just a twisted ankle or a sprain, both of which are common in adults and reasonable to assume are the problem. This is often, unfortunately, an incorrect assumption.

While adults are prone to sprains due to the structure of the ankle and the resulting vulnerability of the tendons supporting it, children very rarely experience ankle sprains. Injuries typically target the weakest point in an area, and for a child's ankle, that's the growth plate. Since a child's bones aren't fully formed, they rely on growth plates to produce the cells necessary for proper bone growth to complete their skeleton.

As a result, those growth plates are the weakest points. That means that, when a child experiences an ankle injury, they are more likely to fracture a growth plate than to sprain their ankle.

What Happens When A Child Fractures A Growth Plate?

If your child suffers an ankle injury that ends up being a fractured growth plate, that is a serious cause for concern. When a growth plate is fractured, if it isn't properly treated right away, it can actually disrupt the bone growth in that area. Over the long term, this can interfere with a child's growth pattern.

If the growth plate isn't set properly, it may not heal correctly. When the growth plate doesn't heal correctly, it isn't able to produce the cells that it is supposed to in order to encourage bone growth. 

How Can You Tell If Your Child May Have Fractured A Growth Plate In Their Ankle?

As you can see, it's important that you are attentive to any possible growth plate injuries as your child grows. However, if you don't know the signs of growth plate injuries, you may not know what to watch for or what signs indicate that you need ankle injury treatment right away.

If your child has suffered an ankle injury, you should watch that ankle for a couple of days. If your child is limping on that ankle for more than a day or so, that's a sign that they definitely injured it significantly. It is even more concerning if he or she isn't able to put weight on the affected foot or move that foot easily.

Additionally, you should watch out for significant swelling around the ankle. If it swells and bruises, that is a key indication that the ankle's growth plate may have been fractured.

What Should You Do About Your Child's Ankle Injury?

If you see any of these warning signs that your child may have seriously injured their ankle, you should call your local urgent care or primary care doctor. The medical providers will inspect the ankle, including both a physical examination as well as possibly an X-ray. The X-ray will show if the growth plate has been fractured as a result of the injury. 

The doctor may recommend the use of a walking boot for several weeks if the damage is minimal. For more significant injuries, your child may be told to keep all weight off the affected ankle for multiple weeks. In severe cases, surgery may be required to reset the growth plate. This comes with the need for a cast afterward, which will need to stay on for a few weeks before your child transitions to the walking boot.

For more information, contact a resource like the Carolina Foot &  Ankle Specialists.