Young boy in front of Scottish Rite Hospital sign.

Jun 09, 2015 / Sports Medicine

Have You Ever Thought About How Bones Grow? – Sports Medicine

We all know that our ears and nose have soft tissue called cartilage. But many don’t realize that this is also found in young bones. These areas are called growth centers and are filled with cartilage until those cells are replaced with bone. Like our ears, these areas in pediatric bones are soft and pliable. This increases the risk of damage from traumatic injuries, and even common orthopedic procedures.

Some growth centers are called epiphyses, which typically lead to changes in the length of a bone. Tendons and muscles are connected to other growth centers called apophyses, which typically control the changes in the shape of a bone. The muscle pulling on these centers adds to the risk of injury. The growth centers “show up” and “go away” in X-rays in certain sequences. Pediatric orthopedic sports surgeons, like Dr. Philip Wilson and Dr. Henry Ellis, have studied how bones grow and how to assess how much growth is left by looking at X-rays. Many times, the most helpful X-ray is of the hand, where there are many growth centers to assess. With this expertise, they are able to offer the right treatment at the right time for young athletes with joint injuries.

According to Dr. Ellis, taking care of young athletes is very different than taking care of adults. He says, “We must take into consideration how much more growing an athlete will do, especially when managing fractures and complex knee ligament injuries.”

Decisions made in the early years of growth have the potential to impact knee alignment and leg symmetry years later. The risk of these complications is low with proper management by pediatric specialists.

Learn more about injury prevention and pediatric sports medicine.

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