What is a Greenstick Fracture and How is it Treated?

Orthopaedic & Spine Center

Robert J. Snyder, MD

Bone fractures are commonplace and are my workplace stock and trade.  There are many types of fractures, different mechanisms that cause them and different presentations. In this article, I will discuss the greenstick fracture, how it is caused, its symptoms, how it is diagnosed and how it is treated.

Have you ever tried to break a young sapling tree branch?  You probably found that you could easily bend it and although it may have cracked on one side, you might have had real difficulty getting it to snap or break all the way through.  That’s the way it is in many cases with young human bones.  They are supple, bendable and don’t break easily but may crack on one side.  That’s why they are called greenstick fractures.

As an orthopaedic physician, I have seen many greenstick fractures in patients under the age of ten, but toddlers are most at risk and teens are quite susceptible as well.  They typically involve long bones of the body and are caused by falling accidents or blows to the body.  As we age into adulthood, our bones ossify and become hard, so they typically will break all the way through vs. a greenstick type of fracture seen in a younger person’s bone.

The symptoms of a greenstick fracture are pain and swelling at the site of the injury.  There may also be bruising, or redness and the area may have a bent appearance.  Babies will cry in pain and younger kids will automatically protect the injured body part, even if they can’t explain what is wrong.  Adolescents and teenagers will be able to communicate their pain, where it is located and how severe it is.

We don’t treat young pediatric patients typically at OSC.  However, greenstick fractures are easily diagnosed with simple x-rays and treated with removable splints instead of plaster casting nowadays, so we sometimes see older adolescents and teenagers.  Surgery is never required for this type of fracture and they typically heal quickly – within four-five weeks.