An Overview of Pediatric Orthopedics

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Whether it's a broken bone after a fall off their bike, a sore knee from too much sports activity, or a growth abnormality that causes a parent to be concerned, kids are prone to many types of orthopedic problems. Given the differences in the bodies of children and adults, the specialized area of medicine known as pediatric orthopedics focuses on the care of bone and joint problems in still-developing bodies.

Boy with a cast on his leg sitting on the couch reading with his dog

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Childhood Orthopedic Conditions

Some of the more common conditions seen in children include:

In addition, there are some orthopedic conditions that occur in specific age groups, such as in newborns.

Unique Aspects of Orthopedic Care for Kids

Sometimes kids thought of as small adults. When it comes to bones, that is definitely not the case, and there are special considerations that need to be taken into consideration when treating orthopedic issues in children.

Children are growing, often very quickly, and the areas where bone is growing most quickly, called the growth plate, can be susceptible to injury. A child's bone is also more elastic (it can bend, without breaking all the way through) and has a capacity to remodel over time.

While healing of a growth plate injury often occurs very quickly because of the rapid growth occurring at that site, a doctor will need to ensure the growth plate was not damaged or if special treatment of that growth plate is needed.

Unrecognized injuries to a growth plate can lead to growth abnormalities such as early closure of the growth plate, or abnormal growth of the bone.

It's also important that any age-specific lifestyle concerns or long-term issues related to a pediatric orthopedic condition are considered, especially when weighing treatment options. For example:

  • Does the child need to restrict her activities? If so, how so and for how long
  • Should she avoid specific sports, running, or jumping?
  • Will the condition affect further growth and development?
  • Is the condition likely to lead to long-term problems or require further treatment?
  • Could this lead to any future limitations?

Kids are often less able than adults to express their symptoms or fears in a way that can be easily understood. Physicians treating young children with orthopedic issues (or any other, for that matter) need to be skilled in extracting information about a child's condition, even in situations where they may not be able to ask simple medical questions, such as "where does it hurt?"

Who Treats Pediatric Orthopedic Issues

Not every bone problem requires the care of a pediatric orthopedic specialist. Many problems are well taken care of by general orthopedists, pediatricians, or emergency care providers. However, when the problem is more complex, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon may be called in to help.

Pediatric orthopedic surgeons have received specialty training in the management of bone and joint problems in children. A pediatric orthopedic surgeon has completed a decade or longer of medical training, including four years of medical school, five years of residency training, and at least one year of specialty training in the management of pediatric conditions.

Not every hospital orthopedic department will have pediatric orthopedic specialists, but many do. Certainly, any children's hospital will have pediatric orthopedic specialists. You can search the database of providers of the Pediatric Orthopaedic Society of North America for providers in your area.

Helping Kids Feel Well

One of the most important things parents and other family and friends can do for kids with an orthopedic ailment is learn how to support their child. Injuries, illnesses, and medical conditions can cause anxiety and depression in kids, and knowing how to support children is an important role for parents to take.

Do not be afraid to ask for help from your child's orthopedic specialist or their pediatrician. These individuals have vast experience working with kids who have faced similar problems and should be able to help you navigate what is likely new territory for you.

In the same light, don't hesitate to tell medical professionals how you think your child can be helped. You know your child better than anyone else—their fears, their anxieties, their comforts—and sharing this with their medical team can help them take better care of your child.

Some simple tips to help with a child facing an orthopedic treatment:

  • Encourage your child to ask questions and address those questions seriously
  • Reinforce brave behaviors with praise
  • Don't say "it won't hurt" unless it truly won't
  • Be supportive, comforting, and encouraging—a hug and a smile go a long way

A Word From Verywell

There is little that causes more fear in a parent than an injured or sick child. Fortunately, the vast majority of orthopedic ailments in kids are temporary frustrations. A child's skeleton has a tremendous ability to heal after trauma, to recover from injury, and to tolerate treatments. Parents are best served by taking their children's conditions seriously to ensure they are getting the right treatment and then listening to their child to ensure they have the emotional support to recover from their condition.

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Gutierrez K. Bone and joint infections in children. Pediatr Clin North Am. 2005;52(3):779-94, vi. doi:10.1016/j.pcl.2005.02.005

  2. Perron AD, Miller MD, Brady WJ. Orthopedic pitfalls in the ED: pediatric growth plate injuries. Am J Emerg Med. 2002;20(1):50-4. doi:10.1053/ajem.2002.30096

  3. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. What Is a Pediatric Orthopaedic Surgeon? 2018.

Additional Reading
  • Pediatric Orthopaedic Society of North America. OrthoKids.

By Jonathan Cluett, MD
Jonathan Cluett, MD, is board-certified in orthopedic surgery. He served as assistant team physician to Chivas USA (Major League Soccer) and the United States men's and women's national soccer teams.