Soft tissue knee injuries

Cite this article as:
Lisa Dann. Soft tissue knee injuries, Don't Forget the Bubbles, 2020. Available at:
https://doi.org/10.31440/DFTB.25908

Sam, a 12-year-old boy, presents to your department after a soccer blitz. He was tackled, heard a pop, and now can’t weight bear on his right knee.

As popularity and intensity of children’s sports increases there are increased demands placed on children and adolescents. This has resulted in an increased presentation of children like Sam. They can present with knee pain that is traumatic or atraumatic, acute or chronic. Paediatric patients are particularly vulnerable to overuse injuries involving the physes and apophyses due to their inherent weakness (see post, hyperlink article on fractures around knee).

Along with these there has also been an increase in soft tissue injuries. These are seen more commonly in older children/adolescents as their bones become stronger and are less likely to fracture with age.

History/examination

Important points to note on the history include:

  • If there was clear onset of pain
  • Traumatic or atraumatic
  • Duration of pain
  • Previous injury/surgery
  • Site of the pain (try be as specific as possible)
  • Severity of pain
  • Nocturnal pain
  • Systemic symptoms
  • Associated swelling (intermittent or progressive)
  • Contralateral injuries (may result in abnormal gait placing additional pressure on knee)
  • Hip or back pain

Recalling the anatomy of the knee makes evaluating the site of pain easier.  The following make up the knee and all can be can be injured/inflamed and cause pain.

  1. Bones around knee – femur ends at lateral and medial condyles which articulates with tibial plateau and anteriorly the patella unsheathed in the patellar tendon.
  2. Ligaments – anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), posterior cruciate ligament (PCL), medial and lateral collateral ligaments.
  3. Meniscus – medial and lateral menisci act as shock absorbers and interdigitate into the ACL and PCL for more stability.
  4. Bursae – supra-patellar bursa, infra-patellar bursa, pre-patellar bursa, and pes anserine bursa (medial aspect of knee).
  5. Tendons – quadriceps tendon (inserts into patella), patellar tendon (inserts into tibial tuberosity)
  6. Other – iliotibial band (fibrous support of fascia lata originating at the external lip of iliac crest and inserting into the lateral condyle of the tibia).

Examination in the acute setting is often difficult and may be limited. This is due to swelling, pain and anxiety. Try your best to be as detailed as possible but ensure you note any red flags on examination. These are:

  • Inability to do straight leg raise (extensor mechanism rupture)
  • Ligamentous laxity
  • Catching, locking or giving away (meniscal injury)
  • Inability to fully straighten the knee

After a thorough history and examination you discover he was tackled and the other player’s foot landed on the lateral aspect of his knee. On examination you find a swelling on medial aspect of the knee and laxity of the medial collateral ligament when valgus stress is placed on the right knee.  You clinically diagnose a medial collateral ligament injury. He is placed in a brace and referred to orthopaedic clinic.

Injured ligaments are considered “sprains” and are graded on a severity scale.

  • Grade 1 sprains: The ligament is mildly damaged. It has been slightly stretched, but is still able to help keep the knee joint stable.
  • Grade 2 sprains: The ligament has been stretched to the point where it becomes loose. This is often referred to as a partial tear of the ligament.
  • Grade 3 sprains: This type of sprain is most commonly referred to as a complete tear of the ligament. The ligament has been split into two pieces, and the knee joint is unstable.

Ligament specific examinations:

  • Anterior and posterior drawer tests – asses anterior and posterior cruciate ligament integrity.
  • Lachman test – assesses ACL integrity. Most sensitive test for ACL rupture. Non-dominant hand cups and support knee. Ensure quads and hip flexors relaxed for it to work. Dominant hand grasps proximal tibia, knee flexed at 20-30 degrees. Pull sharply. Tibia shouldn’t move much and should have distinct end point.
  • Posterior sag test – patient supine, hip flexed at 45 degrees and knee at 90 degree. Look at knee from lateral position. If PCL damaged you’ll see tibia sagging posteriorly.
  • Varus and valgus stresses – assess integrity of medial and lateral collateral ligaments. Compare both sides for laxity.

Management:

  • Unstable joints require a thorough examination of neurovascular status, orthopaedic consultation and very close follow up.
  • ACL tears often have poor healing abilities and may require surgical repair if injury is significant.
  • PCL is much better at healing itself than ACL and low grade tears are managed non-operatively with grade 3 or higher needing reconstruction.
  • Collateral ligament injuries have good healing potential so rest, ice, bracing and slow advancement of range of motion is the management primarily undertaken.

A short while later one of Sam’s team mates, Patrick, presents to ED. He was also playing in the soccer blitz. He got sudden knee pain when turning and his knee is now locked. Following assessment you suspect a meniscal injury.

Meniscal injuries

Meniscal injuries can be traumatic or atraumatic. Suspect if the knee is locked, there was a twisting mechanism, a tearing sensation, or an effusion.

Specific examinations include:

  • McMurray test – patient supine, hip and knee flexed at 90 degrees. Non-dominant hand placed over joint line. Dominant hand grasps patient’s heel and internally and externally rotates tibia exerting valgus and varus forces while extending the leg. This helps to grind on either the medial or lateral menisci. Pain, popping or clicking is a positive test.
  • Appley compression test – the patient lies prone with the knee bent at 90 degrees. The examiner rotates the leg externally and internally several times under simultaneous vertical pressure. A painful pop can point to a meniscal injury.

Treatment includes physiotherapy to compensate for the tear but surgical management may ultimately be required. Follow up with orthopaedics is required.

Patrick’s sister was also brought for review. She is 15 years old and has been having intermittent knee pain for the last few months but it gets much worse after she plays sports. She also says it really hurt her after the cinema yesterday. You suspect patellofemoral pain syndrome.

Patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS)

The pain is frequently described as anterior but is often poorly localised. It may feel like it’s “under” or “around” the patella. Pain is classically exacerbated by prolonged periods of sitting, use of stairs and squatting (theatre sign). Pain may be present for several weeks, exacerbated by activity and relieved after periods of rest. Frequently there is a deterioration in sports performance or inability to participate prompts patients to seek medical review.

Clinical examination should look for gait abnormalities, increased lumbar lordosis, and any asymmetry in hips or lower extremity. It is not uncommon to have reduced flexibility in the hamstrings or quadriceps.

Clarkes sign – positive in PFPS. Patient supine, knee extended. Grab the superior pole to the patella with thumb and index finger and have the patient activate the quadriceps while you inhibit the patellar movement. This causes grinding of the articular surface between patella and femur. Pain is indicative of PFPS.

Investigations are not routinely required. However, knee radiographs may assist in ruling out other conditions such as osteochondritis dissecans of the knee/patella and stress fractures of the patella. Radiographic imaging in PFPS is not diagnostic. It is necessary to combine any findings with your clinical examination.

Management of this is conservative as it is a self-resolving condition. It typically resolves over weeks to months but has been known to take up to two years for complete resolution of symptoms. Management involves reduction in activity (complete cessation usually not required), ice, rest, anti-inflammatory for pain control (short term use), avoidance of aggravating exercises (e.g. squatting) and some find relief with taping/knee-braces. Exercises that strengthen and increase flexibility of the quadriceps, hamstrings, soleus and gastrocnemius muscles are also recommended.

Further specific examinations and possible causes of non-specific knee pain

  • Ask the patient to tighten knee and palpate the quadriceps tendon at superior pole (tenderness indicates possible tendonitis), straight leg raise (assessing quadriceps strength and integrity).
  • Palpate body of patella for tenderness (Sinding-Larsen syndrome) and then patellar tendon and tibial tuberosity (Osgood-Schlatter syndrome).
  • Palpate the medial side of patella (possible inflamed medial plica band) and also palpate the proximal tibial surface (medial anserine bursa- pain, swelling, tenderness may indicate bursitis).
  • Feel under the patella (tenderness on articular surface could indicate patella-femoral syndrome).
  • Lateral – assess for patellar instability (need quadriceps relaxed and knee flexed at 30 degrees). Apprehension indicates patellar laxity and potentially previous dislocation.
  • Joint line – bend the knee and palpate either side slowly and carefully. Try to localize as much as possible. Tenderness may indicate a meniscal tear.
  • Hamstring muscles: With the knee flexed palpate the hamstring muscles. Laterally is the biceps femoris and medially semi-tendinosus and semi-membranosus. Chronic tightness may be the cause of knee pain.
  • Patellar ballottement- effusion

Bottom line

A thorough history and examination can greatly assist in reaching the diagnosis. A correct diagnosis helps to properly counsel patients and appropriately manage their expectations. Without proper treatment, knee injuries can lead to chronic knee problems, early onset arthritis, injury to surrounding tissues, and prolonged healing times. Missed injuries can also cause recurrent cartilage damage, instability in the knee, and unnecessary time away from physical activity. It is our duty to diagnose these injuries in a timely manner and provide appropriate advice, support and follow up.

Below is a useful table outlining the causes of intrinsic knee pain, separated by site of pain on examination (table 1).

References

Finlayson C. Knee injuries in the young athlete. Pediatr Ann. 2014;

Brooke Pengel K. Common overuse injuries in the young athlete. Pediatr Ann. 2014;

Beck NA, Patel NM, Ganley TJ. The pediatric knee: Current concepts in sports medicine. J Pediatr Orthop Part B. 2014. doi:10.1097/BPB.0b013e3283655c94.

Calmbach WL, Hutchens M. Evaluation of patients presenting with knee pain. Part II Am Physician. 2003.

PEM Playbook Knee Pain podcast https://pemplaybook.org/podcast/knee-pain/

Tillaux fractures

Cite this article as:
Tadgh Moriarty. Tillaux fractures, Don't Forget the Bubbles, 2020. Available at:
https://doi.org/10.31440/DFTB.26111

Jenny is a 14-year-old girl who was at soccer training when she had an awkward injury to her left ankle. She was running for the ball when her foot caught in a clump of grass and she externally rotated her leg while her foot remained planted. While the pain was instantaneous, there was very little swelling. Her father has brought her in remarking that ‘it’s probably just a sprain’. But as you call her down to the cubicle to examine her, you think there might be more to it.

Incidence

Tillaux fractures are a type of ‘transitional’ ankle fracture which occur almost exclusively in adolescents. These occur during the unique closure pattern of the distal tibial physis. This closes over an eighteen-month period; first in the middle, then medially and finally laterally. During the closure, this area is vulnerable to these distinctive transitional fractures; the triplane fracture and the Tillaux fracture.

These fractures account for roughly 3% of paediatric ankle fractures. They are seen more commonly in females and tend to occur at slightly different ages depending on gender. It tends to occur later than a triplane fracture; between 12-14 years in girls and 15-18 years in boys.

Mechanism

This Salter-Harris 3 fracture occurs at the anterolateral distal tibial epiphysis. It tends to cause avulsion of the tibial fragment by the tibiofibular ligament; this strong ligament extends from the anterior aspect of the lateral distal tibial epiphysis to the anterior aspect of the fibula. The lack of a fracture through the coronal plane distinguishes this injury from that of a triplane fracture.

This injury pattern occurs usually through a combination of supination and external rotation of the foot in relation to the leg. It usually occurs through low-velocity trauma for example in skateboard accidents or sports with a sliding injury.

Presentation

These injuries are almost exclusively seen in adolescents. Similar to most ankle injuries there will be a history of trauma, symptoms of pain, swelling, and an inability (or painful) weight-bearing.

The clinical exam often reveals localised tenderness to the anterior joint line. This contrasts with a sprain where the tenderness is usually below the joint line. Marked displacement is prevented by the fibula.

Imaging

Do not be misled by lack of swelling – have a low threshold to image injuries which present with an inability to weight bear (at least four steps). When requesting an ankle x-ray AP and lateral views will be included as standard – if you have a high index of suspicion for a Tillaux fracture ask for an oblique or ‘mortise’ view – this can improve your detection by avoiding the obstructed view through the fibula and potentially making the subtle fracture more apparent.

This injury can sometimes have an associated ipsilateral tibial shaft fracture or a proximal fibular injury. During your clinical exam if you illicit tenderness proximal to the ankle, then include a full-length tibia/fibula x-ray with your request.

Does this injury require a CT? Perhaps! See the controversy section below for a more thorough explanation. CT is generally only required by the orthopaedic team to assist with surgical planning.

Image courtesy of Orthobullets.com

Image showing CT scan of same fracture with >2mm displacement courtesy of Orthobullets.com

This injury however often requires a CT scan to assist the orthopaedic team in deciding between conservative and operative management.

A study by Horn et al showed CT as being more sensitive than plain film at detecting fractures with greater than 2mm displacement (the cut-off point adopted for operative fixation).

Treatment

These fractures are important as they involve the weight-bearing surface and can lead to significant morbidity if missed. The treatment of these injuries is not uniform – different methods and cut-offs are described in different case reports and case series. Having that said the current marker for operative versus conservative treatment is the degree of displacement of the fracture fragment.

Those with < 2mm displacement can generally be treated conservatively. This usually involves an above-knee cast for up to 4 weeks (to control the rotational component) followed by either a walker boot or below-knee cast for a further 2-4 weeks. This conservative approach is well documented in having a satisfactory outcome.

Those with displacement >2mm generally require intervention to ensure articular congruity of the joint surface is restored. Intervention can occur in different forms; some may be suitable for a closed reduction under procedural sedation (or general anaesthetic). Different reduction techniques exist however longitudinal traction while the knee is flexed followed by internally rotating a maximally dorsiflexed ankle seems to achieve greater anatomic reduction. A review by Lurie et al concluded those left with a residual gap of more than 2.5mm led to worse functional outcomes. Therefore post-reduction radiological confirmation should show minimal displacement (the figure of <2mm tends to be favoured in the literature) otherwise operative intervention is required. Many orthopaedic surgeons favour CT as the post-reduction imaging modality of choice and then follow this reduction with serial radiographs to confirm maintenance of the reduction over time.

Operative intervention can involve K-wire insertion, use of lag screws or a novel technique involving percutaneously inserted wires with arthroscopic or radiological guidance. This new technique is seen as less invasive and as-effective but is technically complex and demanding. If this injury presents with a neurovascular compromise or critical skin then emergent surgery is indicated. This is, thankfully, rare.

What to tell the patient

Recovery: Both operative and conservative measures tend to require up to 8 weeks of immobilisation followed by a rehab phase. This phase will vary depending on the age of the patient. Most patients have a good outcome with 86% having complete recovery and no sequelae. Very few will have pain or limitation of ankle movement. Late presentation and a non-anatomical reduction will increase the risk of this.

Complications

These are less common than other ankle fractures; delayed or malunion, osteonecrosis of the distal tibial epiphysis, premature growth arrest and compartment syndrome are all very rare occurrences. Early-onset arthritis can occur, those with late presentations or missed fractures are more at risk.

Operative intervention carries the additional (albeit small) risk of physeal damage from direct pressure by blunt instruments and inadvertent damage to the superficial peroneal nerve.

Controversies

Radiological evaluation remains controversial. Plain x-ray usually identifies the transitional fracture, and the degree of displacement. However, CT (ideally with 3D reconstruction) is more accurate in estimating the degree of displacement and fracture separation.

Case courtesy of Dr Yasser Asiri, Radiopaedia.org. From the case rID: 64778

CT can help in identifying the number and position of fragments. The issue of whether CT or MRI alters treatment or prognosis when compared with plain X-ray has not been fully investigated. Limited research has been carried out on whether CT, with its greater accuracy, actually affects treatment or patient outcome. Liporace et al in 2012 found that interobserver and intra-observer agreements about primary treatment plans did not differ significantly between radiography alone and radiography plus CT. This showed that the addition of CT did not actually change the impression about the degree of displacement in each case. This raises the question as to whether CT really alters outcomes despite having perceived greater benefits.

Jenny is found to have significant tenderness about her distal tibia on exam and an x-ray confirms a Tillaux fracture which is minimally displaced. She is placed in an above-knee backslab and referred to the orthopaedic fracture clinic. She is left disappointed that she will miss this season’s matches, but thankfully you didn’t misdiagnose this as a sprain!

References

Orthobullets.com/paediatrics/4028/tillaux-fractures

Wheelers textbook of orthopaedics (updated 2015) Clifford J Wheeless Tintinnali 7th Ed

Tiefenboeck TM, Binder H, Joestil J et al. Displaced juvenile Tillaux fractures: surgical treatment and outcome. Wien Klin Wochenschr. 2017; 129 (5-6):169-175

Rosenbaum AJ, DiPreta JA, Uhl RL. Review of distal tibial epiphysis transitional fractures. Orthopaedics. 2012;35(12):1046-1049

Horn BD, Cristina K, Krug M, Pizzutillo PD, MacEwen GD. Radiologic evaluation of juvenile Tillaux fractures of the distal tibia. J Pediatr Orthopaedics. 2001; 21(2): 162-4

Cooperman DR, Spiegel PG, Laros GS. Tibial fractures involving the ankle in children. The so-called triplane epiphyseal fracture. J Bone Joint Surg Am. 1978 Dec. 60 (8):1040-6

Panagopoulos A, van Niekerk L. Arthroscopic assisted reduction and fixation of a juvenile Tillaux fracture. Knee Surg Sports Traumatol Arthrosc 2007;15:415-417

Manderson EL, Ollivierre CO. Closed anatomic reduction of a juvenile tillaux fracture by dorsiflexion of the ankle. A case report. Clin Orthop Relat Res. 1992 Mar. (276):262-6.

Crawford AH Triplane and Tillaux fractres: is a 2mm residual gap acceptable. J Pediatr Orthop. 2012 Jun;32 Suppl1:S69-73

Schlesinger I, Wedge JH. Percutaneous reduction and fixation of displaced juvenile Tillaux fractures: a new surgical technique. J Pediatr Orthopaedics. 1993;13:389-391

Stefanich RJ, Lozman J. The juvenile fracture of Tillaux. Clin Orthopaedics Relat Res. 1986;210:219-227

Kaya A, Altay T, Ozturk H, Karapinar L. Open reduction and internal fixation in displaced juvenile Tillaux fractures. Injury 2007;38:201-205

Choudhry IK, Wall EJ, Eismann EA. Crawford AH, Wilson I. Functional outcome analysis of triplane and tillaux fractyres after closed reduction and percutaneous fixation. J Pediatr Orthop. 2014;34:139-43

Jennings MM, Layaway P, Schubert JM. Arthroscopic assisted fixation of juvenile intra-articular epiphyseal ankle fractures. J Foot Ankle Surg 2007;46: 376-386

Rockwood and Wilkin’s fractures in children. 6th Edition.2006

Kim JR, Song KH, Song KJ, Lee HS. Treatment outcomes of triplane and Tillaux fractures of the ankle in adolescence. Clin Orthop Surg. 2010 Mar. 2 (1):34-8

Haapamaki VV, Kiuru MJ, Koskinen SK. Ankle and foot injuries: analysis of MDCT findings. AJR Am J Roentgenol. 2004 Sep. 183 (3):615-22

Charlton M, Costello R, Mooney JF et al. Ankle joint biomechanics following transepiphyseal screw fixation of the distal tibia. J Pediatr Orthopaedics. 2005;25: 635-640

Liporace FA, Yoon RS, Kubiak EN, Parisi DM, Koval KJ, Feldman DS, et al. Does adding computed tomography change the diagnosis and treatment of Tillaux and triplane pediatric ankle fractures?. Orthopedics. 2012 Feb 17. 35 (2):e208-12

Lurie B, Van Rysselberghe N, Pennock AT, Upsani VV. Functional outcomes of Tillaux and triplane fractures with 2-5millimetres of intra articluations gap. J Bone Joint Surg Am. 2020;102:679-686

Rapariz AJ, Avocets G, Gonzalez-Herman P, Texas et al. Distal tibial triplane fractures: long term follow up. J Pediatr Orthopaedics. 1996; 16: 113-118.

Elbow dislocations

Cite this article as:
Becky Platt. Elbow dislocations, Don't Forget the Bubbles, 2020. Available at:
https://doi.org/10.31440/DFTB.28344

You are called to assess 14-year old Oliver who has presented to your ED by ambulance with an elbow injury.  He dived to make a save while playing football and landed on his outstretched hand.  He reports feeling a click in his elbow, followed by excruciating pain.  He was given methyoxyflurane in the ambulance which has helped. 

Assessment of any child and examination of their elbow should be approached in an age-appropriate and systematic way.  In addition to examining for bony tenderness, vascular and neurological status should be tested.

Oliver’s elbow looks significantly swollen, deformed and bruised.  You feel for a radial pulse – it’s there – and  undertake a neurovascular assessment, which is intact.  You prescribe him some intranasal fentanyl and order AP and lateral x-Rays of his elbow.

The elbow is an incredibly stable joint due to the way the humerus and ulna articulate (giving anterior-posterior and varus-valgus stability), strengthened by the medial and lateral collateral ligaments and the joint capsule.  Muscles and tendons further strengthen this ring.  A significant amount of force is needed to dislocate the elbow. 

Traumatic dislocation of the elbow is rare in the paediatric population comprising only 3-6% of all childhood elbow injuries, but the most common large joint dislocation (Lieber et al., 2012).  It is usually the result of a fall onto an outstretched hand, often with a large amount of force involved.  

Clinically, it is obvious that there is significant injury around the elbow; this is not something you will miss or be tempted not to x-ray.  Displaced supracondylar fractures can sometimes be confused with elbow dislocation as both present with a grossly swollen elbow and significant pain.  A quick and easy way to distinguish the two clinically is to palpate for the equilateral triangle formed by the olecranon and the two epicondyles: this is lost in elbow dislocation as the humerus creates a fullness in the antecubital fossa. There is no need to check movements in a deformed elbow but be sure to undertake a neurovascular assessment as a priority.  

The easiest way to classify simple elbow dislocations is by describing the direction of ulna dislocation in relation to the distal humerus.

Classification of elbow dislocations

90% of paediatric elbow dislocations are postero-lateral with the radiographic appearance as below:

But beware: elbow dislocations rarely present in isolation.  They often coexist with other elbow injuries. Associated fractures are likely to occur prior to closure of the epiphyses; when they are closed, collateral ligaments are likely to be ruptured (Lieber et al., 2012). The most common associated fracture is a medial epicondyle avulsion which can become incarcerated in the joint – scrutinize the elbow x-rays for associated fractures. This illustrates the importance of knowing CRITOE.

Elbow dislocation with medial epicondyl avulsion from Orthobullets.com. The white arrow points to the avulsed medial epicondyl while the red arrow shows where it has been avulsed from.

Oliver returns from x-ray and you review his films. You note the posterior dislocation but cannot see any associated fractures on Oliver’s films. You contact your orthopaedic team for further assistance.

Management

Many elbow dislocations reductions can be carried out in the emergency department with adequate muscular relaxation and appropriate analgesia.  A reasonable amount of force is often required to achieve reduction using traction on the forearm with counter-traction around the elbow.  This should be carried out or supervised by a clinician experienced in the procedure. 

Common pitfalls in elbow reduction

Be very careful to conduct a thorough neurovascular assessment before attempting reduction. The brachial artery and median nerve may become stretched over the displaced proximal ulna and ulnar nerve can become damaged when medial epicondyle avulsions complicate elbow dislocations. If a deficit is found after reduction you need to know whether it was present before you attempted relocation…

And if you can’t reduce the dislocation go back and have another look at the x-ray – it could be due to an avulsed medial epicondyle in the joint. Any elbow dislocation with an incarcerated piece of avulsed bone in the joint must be reduced in theatre and not in the ED.

Complications

Possible complications following elbow dislocation include residual limitation of the range of movement, recurrent instability, neurovascular injury, avascular necrosis of the epiphyses and degenerative arthritis. Early diagnosis and stable reduction, with fixation of concomitant fractures if necessary, are generally associated with better outcomes.  For the Emergency department clinician, it is therefore critical that children with this injury are assessed and managed with the minimum possible delay, ensuring that associated fractures are recognised and managed appropriately.

After sedation with ketamine, Oliver’s elbow is reduced in the department with a satisfying clunk signifying reduction.  His elbow is put through a full range of movement to test joint stability and an above elbow backslab applied.  You order repeat x-Rays to evaluate the position and to check for the joint spacing and any fracture fragments within the joint as this would require surgical intervention.  The post-reduction films are good and Oliver’s neurovascular assessment remains normal and he leaves your ED with a follow-up appointment in fracture clinic in a week’s time.

References

Cadogan, M. (2019) Elbow Dislocation https://lifeinthefastlane.com/elbow-dislocation/

Edgington, J. (2018) Elbow Dislocation – Pediatric.  

https://www.orthobullets.com/pediatrics/4013/elbow-dislocation–pediatric

Lieber, J., Zundel, S., Luithle, T., Fuchs, J., & Kirschner, H-J. (2012) Acute traumatic posterior elbow dislocation in children.  Journal of Pediatric Orthopaedics B. 21(5) 474-481

Rasool, M. N. (2004). Dislocations of the elbow in children. The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, 86, 1050–1058. 

Sibenlist, S. & Biberthaler, P. (2019) Simple Elbow Dislocations in Biberthaler, P., Sibenlist, S. & Waddell, J.P. Acute Elbow Trauma.  Fractures and dislocation injuries (eBook).  Springer

Sofu, H., Gursu, S., Camurcu, Y., Yildirim, T., & Sahin, V. (2016). Pure elbow dislocation in the paediatric age group. International Orthopaedics, 40(3), 541–545

Radial head and neck fractures

Cite this article as:
Becky Platt. Radial head and neck fractures, Don't Forget the Bubbles, 2020. Available at:
https://doi.org/10.31440/DFTB.21165

Aisha is 10 years old. She loves gymnastics but today, during a cartwheel, she injured her right elbow.  Aisha is cradling her right arm in her left hand and is reluctant to move it, despite having had ibuprofen at home.  

 

Assessment of any child and examination of their elbow should be approached in an age-appropriate and systematic way.  In addition to examining for bony tenderness, vascular and neurological status should be tested.

 

On examination, you note swelling around the elbow, especially on the lateral aspect.  Aisha has tenderness particularly over the radial head and complains of pain on any movement especially supination and pronation.  She has normal sensory and motor function of radial, ulnar and median nerves and normal pulses, colour and capillary refill time to her hand. You prescribe further analgesia, apply a broad arm sling for comfort and order lateral and AP x-rays of her elbow.

Radial head and neck fractures comprise around 5% of all elbow injuries in children, with a peak at 9-10 years of age. They normally result from a FOOSH (‘fall onto an outstretched hand’).  Fractures through the radial head are rare in children: more commonly the physis (the growth plate: the disc of cartilage between the epiphysis and metaphysis), or radial neck will be involved.

 

Radial Neck fractures

Radial neck fractures can generally be diagnosed on lateral and AP elbow x-ray.  It’s useful to remind yourself of the elbow anatomy prior to looking at the x-ray so that you know what you’re looking for.  It’s really important to appreciate that part of the radial neck sits outside of the capsule. Most radial neck fractures occur at the level of the annular ligament, which forms a collar around the radial neck to anchor it to the ulna.

Elbow ligaments. From RCEM Learning

This means that not all radial neck fractures have a joint effusion. Don’t be fooled by a lateral elbow x-ray without a fat pad sign – this just means there’s no joint effusion; it doesn’t mean there isn’t a radial neck fracture.

The appearance can be quite subtle, so it’s useful to remind yourself what the radial neck looks like on a normal X-ray:

Normal radial neck. Case courtesy of Dr Henry Knipe, Radiopaedia.org. From the case rID: 24158

In particular, notice how the contours of the radial neck form smooth curves, as above. These smooth curves are lost in radial neck fracture:

Radial neck fracture. Case courtesy of Dr Jeremy Jones, Radiopaedia.org. From the case rID: 42688

 

Mildly angulated radial neck fracture (black arrow) and posterior fat pad (white arrow). Reproduced with permission from Emery et al. Ped Rad. 2016; 46:61-6

How are radial neck fractures classified?

Radial neck fractures were classified by O’Brien (1965)  as follows:

Type I: <30 degrees displacement

Type II: 30-60 degrees displacement

Type III: >60 degrees displacement

O’Brien’s classification of radial neck fractures. From Orthobullets

 

Other radial neck classifications have been described so, to avoid confusion, it’s probably safest to describe the degree of displacement rather than the classification type, especially as displacement of radial neck fractures in children is uncommon.

 

How should radial neck fractures be managed?  

Most paediatric radial neck fractures are type I: undisplaced or minimally displaced.  These do really well with conservative management with immobilization in a collar and cuff.  Those with displacement of >30 degrees tend to have a worse outcome and should be referred to orthopaedics as reduction, and possible internal fixation will be required.

 

Which children need to be discussed with the orthopaedic team before they go home?

  • Any displaced radial neck fractures
  • Any radial neck fractures with a second elbow injury

 

Radial neck fractures – do not miss…

30-50% of children with a proximal radial fracture have another fracture – examine the child and their x-rays very carefully.  Having a second injury is associated with a poorer outcome. The most common associated injuries are:

  • elbow dislocations
  • medial epicondyle fractures
  • olecranon fractures

 

Radial neck fractures can also be associated with compartment syndrome of the forearm, although thankfully this is rare.   Compartment syndrome is a limb-threatening condition caused by increased pressure within the closed space of a muscular compartment which causes compression of the nerves, muscles, and vessels within the compartment.  Untreated, this can lead to ischaemic injury within 4-8 hours.

 

Assessing for compartment syndrome – the 5 Ps

  • Pain – the most important indicator.  Often diffuse and progressive, not resolved by analgesia, worsened by passive flexion of the injury.
  • Pallor – assess distal to the injury.  Dusky or cool skin (compared to the other side) or delayed capillary return.
  • Pulse – weak or absent pulse indicates poor perfusion,
  • Paralysis – assess active movement of the wrist and fingers.  This may cause pain but the purpose is to assess ability to move.
  • Paraesthesia – ask about pins and needles or a feeling of the hand “falling asleep”.  Assess sensation with light touch or using an object such as a pen lid.

Any concerns about potential compartment syndrome must be escalated to an ED or orthopaedic senior without delay as this is a time-critical situation.

 

Radial Head fractures

Like radial neck fractures, radial head fractures are also most often due to a FOOSH.  Unlike radial neck fractures, radial head fractures typically occur after the proximal radial physis has closed so are more common in older children. They are usually clearly visible on x-ray and the majority are undisplaced and respond well to conservative management in a collar and cuff or sling.  Displaced fractures of the radial head are rare and will need an urgent orthopaedic referral.

Radial head fracture. Case courtesy of Dr Henry Knipe, Radiopaedia.org. From the case rID: 24158

 

 

Aisha returns from X-Ray and you spot an undisplaced fracture of the radial neck, visible on the AP and lateral views.  You remember that associated fractures are common and so have a careful look for other injuries and check the epiphyses using the CRITOE rule.  Aisha has an isolated, non-displaced radial neck fracture with no other injuries: you pop her in a collar and cuff and organize virtual fracture clinic follow up.  You make sure to give her and her family advice about analgesia and signs of any neurovascular compromise before they leave.

 

References

Barclay, T. (2019) Elbow Joint. Innerbody https://www.innerbody.com/image/skel14.html

Davies, F., Bruce, C. E., & Taylor-Robinson, K. J. (2011). Emergency Care of Minor Trauma in Children. London: Hodder & Stoughton.

De Mattos, C. B., Ramski, D. E., Kushare, I. V., Angsanuntsukh, C., & Flynn, J. M. (2015). Radial Neck Fractures in Children and Adolescents. Journal of Pediatric Orthopaedics, 36(1), 6-12.

Edgington, J. & Andras, L. (2018) Radial head and neck fractures – pediatric https://www.orthobullets.com/pediatrics/4011/radial-head-and-neck-fractures–pediatric

Emery, K. H., Zingula, S. N., Anton, C. G., Salisbury, S. R., & Tamai, J. (2016). Pediatric elbow fractures: a new angle on an old topic. Pediatric Radiology, 46(1), 61–66.

Gaillard, F. https://radiopaedia.org/articles/radial-head-fractures?lang=us Accessed 23/06/2019

Gomes, C. & Lowsby, R. (2018) Elbow Injuries.  RCEM Learning https://www.rcemlearning.co.uk/reference/elbow-injuries/

Hill, C. E., & Cooke, S. (2017). Common Paediatric Elbow Injuries. The Open Orthopaedics Journal, 11, 1380–1393.

Kraus, R. (2014). The pediatric vs. the adolescent elbow. Some insight into age-specific treatment. European Journal of Trauma and Emergency Surgery, 40(1), 15–22.

Lampert, L. (2016). Compartment Syndrome – The 5 Ps. Ausmed. Retrieved from https://www.ausmed.com/cpd/articles/compartment-syndrome

Nicholson, L. T., & Skaggs, D. L. (2019). Proximal Radius Fractures in Children. The Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, 00(00), 1–11.

Nickson, C. (2018) Compartment Syndrome. Life in the Fast Lane https://lifeinthefastlane.com/compartment-syndrome/

O’Brien, P.I. (1965) Injuries involving the proximal radial epiphysis.  Clinical Orthopaedic related Research, 41, 51-58.

Shabtai, L., & Arkader, A. (2016). Percutaneous reduction of displaced radial neck fractures achieves better results compared with fractures treated by open reduction. Journal of Pediatric Orthopaedics, 36(4), S63–S66.

Tan, B. H., & Mahadev, A. (2011). Radial neck fractures in children. Journal of Orthopaedic Surgery (Hong Kong), 19(2), 209–212.

Olecranon fractures

Cite this article as:
Becky Platt. Olecranon fractures, Don't Forget the Bubbles, 2020. Available at:
https://doi.org/10.31440/DFTB.21080

14-year old Noah was rocking on his chair while daydreaming his way through a maths lesson this morning… and fell off.  He reports that he landed directly on his left elbow and that it has been painful throughout the day.  He attends your ED this afternoon with his unamused mother.

Assessment of any child and examination of their elbow should be approached in an age-appropriate and systematic way.  In addition to examining for bony tenderness, vascular and neurological status should be tested.

You ensure Noah has been given analgesia before examining him.  His pain score is 5 and he seems comfortable after paracetamol and ibuprofen when his arm is resting.  His elbow is notably bruised and swollen. He is particularly tender over the olecranon and any movement is painful.  His neurovascular status is normal with good radial and ulnar pulses, normal sensation in the radial, ulnar and median nerve distributions and as he’s able to make the rock, paper, scissors and ok hand signs, you’re happy he has full motor function.  You order AP and lateral films of his elbow and pop him in a broad arm sling for comfort before sending him round for his x-rays.

Epidemiology and mechanism of injury

Olecranon fractures in children are rare, comprising around 5% of elbow fractures. Compare this with supracondylar fractures which comprise over half of all elbow fractures in the paediatric population. Olecranon fractures may result from a fall onto an outstretched hand (FOOSH), direct trauma or, occasionally, a stress fracture from repetitive throwing motion in athletes.

They can be classified according to the Mayo classification.

Examination findings

In addition to pain, there will almost certainly be generalised swelling around the elbow, usually with visible evidence of trauma, such as bruising or abrasion, over the olecranon process.  Point tenderness over the olecranon is often a feature, but the degree of swelling can sometimes make this difficult to appreciate.  Inability to fully extend the elbow is common, and pain on extension, supination and pronation is expected.  In those with comminuted or significantly displaced fractures it may be possible to feel crepitus over the olecranon.

Radiology

Interpreting children’s elbow x-rays can be mind boggling. Epiphyses ossify at different rates and so it can be easy to confuse a normal olecranon epiphysis with a fracture.  The olecranon epiphysis normally appears around 9 years and fuses at 15-17 years.   Be sure to refer to the CRITOE rules and if you’re not sure whether you’re seeing a normal epiphysis or a fracture, seek senior advice.  The olecranon can be best assessed on the lateral film.

This x-ray shows a normal olecranon epiphysis:

Case courtesy of Dr Jeremy Jones, Radiopaedia.org. From the case rID: 26814

Some olecranon fractures are obvious…

…but some can be incredibly subtle as illustrated in this series from Radiology Assistant:

Some olecranon fractures may only be visible on one view.  This may be the AP or the lateral.  The below elbow x-rays show a transverse olecranon fracture visible on the AP view only (arrow).  Note the raised anterior and posterior fat pads on the lateral view.  And an extra bonus point to those who spotted the subtle radial neck fracture.

Management

The majority of olecranon fractures (around 80%) are either undisplaced or minimally displaced (less than 2mm); these can be managed conservatively with an above elbow back-slab with good functional outcome.

Minimally displaced (<2mm) fracture in a 7 year old, requiring conservative management only. Case courtesy of Dr Jeremy Jones, Radiopaedia.org. From the case rID: 23650

Complications

In children with a displaced olecranon fracture, there is risk of complications including delayed or non-union, ongoing elbow stiffness and impaired function.  Refer any child who has an olecranon fracture with these features as they’re likely to require surgical intervention:

  • >2-4mm displacement
  • angulation of >30°
  • intra-articular involvement
  • extensor mechanism disruption
  • instability on extension
  • comminution

Olecranon fracture with >30 degrees of displacement, requiring surgical fixation. From Orthobullets.com.

The practitioner seeing injured children in the ED must be aware of the potential for these.  Displaced olecranon fractures can cause growth disturbances resulting in fixed flexion deformity of the elbow joint and associated morbidity into adulthood.

The ulnar nerve is particularly at risk of injury with olecranon fracture. Ensure you carry out a thorough neurovascular assessment, in particular checking sensation over the little finger and that the small muscles of the hand are functioning normally (the “scissors” sign).

A significant proportion of olecranon fractures are associated with concomitant injury, including radial neck fracture and /or supracondylar fracture and any co-existing injury is prognostic for poorer outcome.  When interpreting the x-ray, it is important therefore to have a systematic approach.

Bullets of wisdom 

  • Don’t confuse an unfused olecranon epiphysis with a fracture
  • But don’t forget that olecranon fractures can be subtle – maintain a high index of suspicion in children with direct trauma and inability to extend their elbow
  • Olecranon fractures are sometimes only visible on one view and this can be the lateral or the AP
  • Displaced fractures can have devastating consequences and must be referred to orthopaedics as they may need surgical intervention
  • Document neurovascular status and be sure to check ulnar nerve function
  • And look for a concomitant radial neck or supracondylar fracture

Noah returns from X-Ray and you review his films. He has a posterior fat pad sign and on closer scrutiny you spot an intra-articular fracture of the olecranon. You recognise that this type of fracture can be associated with complications and refer him to the orthopaedic team.  You ensure that his pain score and neurovascular status are being assessed regularly.

 

References

Cabanela M.E. & Morrey B.F. (1993) The Elbow and Its Disorders. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, PA, USA: WB Saunders cited in Sullivan, C. W., & Desai, K. (2019). Classifications in Brief: Mayo Classification of Olecranon Fractures. Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research, 477(4), 908–910.

Caterini, R., Farsetti, P., DʼArrigo, C., & Ippolito, E. (2002). Fractures of the Olecranon in Children. Long-Term Follow-Up of 39 Cases. Journal of Pediatric Orthopaedics B, 11(4), 320–328.

Corradin, M., Marengo, L., Andreacchio, A., Paonessa, M., Giacometti, V., Samba, A., … Canavese, F. (2016). Outcome of isolated olecranon fractures in skeletally immature patients: comparison of open reduction and tension band wiring fixation versus closed reduction and percutaneous screw fixation. European Journal of Orthopaedic Surgery and Traumatology, 26(5), 469–476.

Degnan, A. J., Ho-Fung, V. M., Nguyen, J. C., Barrera, C. A., Lawrence, J. T. R., & Kaplan, S. L. (2019). Proximal radius fractures in children: evaluation of associated elbow fractures. Pediatric Radiology, 1–8.

Edgington, J. & Andras, L. (2019) Olecranon fractures – pediatric https://www.orthobullets.com/pediatrics/4010/olecranon-fractures–pediatric?expandLeftMenu=true

Hill, C. E., & Cooke, S. (2017). Common Paediatric Elbow Injuries. Open Orthopaedics Journal, 11, 1380–1393.

Kraus, R. (2014). The pediatric vs. the adolescent elbow. Some insight into age-specific treatment. European Journal of Trauma and Emergency Surgery, 40(1), 15–22.

Nicholson, L. T., & Skaggs, D. L. (2019). Proximal Radius Fractures in Children. The Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, 00(00), 1–11.

Pace, A., Gibson, A., Al-Mousawi, A., & Matthews, S. J. (2005). Distal humerus lateral condyle mass fracture and olecranon fracture in a 4-year-old female – Review of literature. Injury Extra, 36(9), 368–372.

Perkins, C. A., Busch, M. T., Christino, M. A., Axelrod, J., Devito, D. P., Fabregas, J. A., … Willimon, S. . (2018). Olecranon fractures in children and adolescents: outcomes based on fracture fixation. Journal of Children’s Orthopaedics, 12, 497–501.

Rath, N. K., Carpenter, E. C., Ortho, F., & Thomas, D. P. (2011). Traumatic Pediatric Olecranon Injury. A Report of Suture Fixation and Review of the Literature. Pediatric Emergency Care, 27(12), 1167–1169.

Medial epicondylar fractures of the humerus

Cite this article as:
Lisa Dunlop. Medial epicondylar fractures of the humerus, Don't Forget the Bubbles, 2020. Available at:
https://doi.org/10.31440/DFTB.21036

In this section we will mainly discuss medial epicondylar fractures. Medial condylar fractures are a rare pattern of fracture and managed in a similar manner to lateral condylar fractures. It is important to differentiate between medial condylar and epicondylar fractures as condylar fractures are intra-articular and require urgent open reduction and internal fixation.

Lateral condylar fractures of the humerus

Cite this article as:
Lisa Dunlop. Lateral condylar fractures of the humerus, Don't Forget the Bubbles, 2020. Available at:
https://doi.org/10.31440/DFTB.21030

Six-year-old William was playing hopscotch in the playground but fell, landing on his left outstretched hand. Afterwards he complained of left elbow pain and was taken to the local Emergency Department. He was told that he had a lateral condylar fracture of the humerus…

 

Epidemiology 

This is a relatively common fracture in the paediatric population and occurs mainly in children below the age of 7 years old, with a mean age of 6. It accounts for approximately 10-20% of paediatric elbow fractures and is the second most common intra-articular fracture.

 

History 

The most common aetiology for this fracture is a fall onto an outstretched hand. The patient will complain of pain to the lateral aspect of the elbow. The level of pain may be low in minimally displaced fractures.

 

Examination

Have a look at our post on elbow examination for tips on how to do a full assessment of a child’s elbow.

Inspection of the joint will reveal an elbow with swelling to the lateral aspect. There is usually minimal deformity. Bruising may indicate a brachioradialis tear and therefore likely instability. Tenderness is usually limited to the lateral aspect and crepitus may be palpated on movement. Wrist flexion and extension may reproduce the pain.

It is important to carefully examine the joint below and above the injured area. Don’t forget to examine the rest of the child for other injuries.

Remember to be suspicious of non-accidental injury in cases where there are inconsistencies in the history and injury type.

 

Investigations

AP and lateral x-rays of the elbow are required. Oblique views can be valuable if no fracture is seen on lateral or AP views but clinical suspicion remains. This is where your knowledge of the ossification centres comes into play (for detail on this see CRITOE). The ossification centres appear on x-rays in the order: Capitellum, Radial head, Internal epicondyle, Trochlea, Olecranon and the External epicondyle, also known as the lateral condyle. The lateral epicondyle appears at the age of 8-12 years old and fuses at age 12-14 years old.

The paediatric elbow is largely cartilaginous. Lateral condylar fractures often only affect the cartilaginous part of the humerus. As cartilage is not radiopaque, the true extent of the fracture is often not fully understood when looking at the x-ray.

The presence of anterior and posterior fat pads may often be the only indication that a fracture is present.

The most commonly associated fracture is the ipsilateral elbow dislocation (usually posterolaterally) and ipsilateral humeral fractures (most commonly the olecranon). Ensure you obtain radiographs for other suspected fractures.

 Lateral condyle fractures can be classified depending on their x-ray appearances.

 

Classification

There are several different classification methods. The most common classifications as below.

Milch Classification
Type 1 The fracture line is lateral to the trochlear groove… not into the humero-ulnar joint
Type 2 The fracture line is medial to the trochlear groove and is, therefore, a fracture-dislocation and unstable.

 

Milch Classification

 

Jakob Classification
Stage 1 <2mm displacement, which indicates intact cartilaginous hinge
Stage 2 2-4mm of displacement
Stage 3 >4mm displacement with rotation of the fragment

 

Jakob Classification

 

Immediate treatment in the ED

Provide immediate adequate analgesia to the child prior to any examination or investigation.

If the fracture is open, conservatively manage the wound, consider tetanus status and antibiotics.

Keep the child nil by mouth as they may need urgent surgery.

 

Treatment following imaging

Treatment depends on the degree of displacement of the fracture.

Due to the high complication rate of these fractures, all lateral condylar fractures should be referred for to the on-call orthopaedic team while in the Emergency Department.

 

Jakob classification Treatment option Follow up
Stage 1 (<2mm of displacement) Conservative management with immobilisation with above elbow cast to 90 degrees. Weekly imaging in fracture clinic with the cast in place for 4-6 weeks.
Stage 2 and 3 (> 2mm with or without rotation) These all must go to theatre and have closed reduction with percutaneous pinning or open reduction with screw fixation. 3-6 weeks in above-elbow cast and orthopaedic follow up.

 

Areas of controversy

Serial radiographs are often recommended in the management of conservative management minimally or undisplaced lateral condylar fractures. A systematic review by Tan et al 2018 found that serial X-rays have no clinical significance. However, if the 1 week up x-ray is not satisfactory, this should be followed up appropriately under the patient’s treating orthopaedic team.

 

Potential complications

This type of fracture is associated with a high rate of complications, which usually develop later, during the healing process.

The reduction must be accurate. If there is malunion, the fragment does not adequately unite or the epiphyseal plate is damaged then complications may occur:

  • Stiffness is the most common complication, usually fully resolving by 48 weeks.
  • Delayed union occurs if the fracture has not healed after 6 weeks. This usually occurs if the fracture visible at 2 weeks.
  • Non-union is more likely when delayed union occurs.
  • Cubitus valgus deformity occurs with lateral physeal growth arrest.
  • Delayed “tardy ulnar palsy” may develop as the child grows and the ulnar nerve is stretched across the elbow with valgus deformity.
  • Avascular necrosis may develop 1-3 years after the fracture.

Image from wikimedia.org

 

Do not miss bits

Lateral condylar fractures of the humerus can present with minimal pain or deformity and can be missed (16.6% misdiagnosed as presented by Tan et al 20181). Due to the high rate of complication, it is important that we do not miss these fractures.

  

William was found to have an isolated Jakob stage 3 type lateral condylar fracture and was taken to theatre that evening. Open reduction was required, and internal screw fixation secured the fragment. His cast was removed 4 weeks after and his joint mobility continues to improve.

 

 

References

Bowden G, McNally MA, Thomas RYW, Gibson A. 2013. Oxford Handbook of Orthopaedics and Trauma, Oxford Medical Publications. Page 564-5

Dandy DJ, Edwards DJ, 2003. Essential Orthopaedics and Trauma, Fourth Edition, Churchill Livingstone, page 197.

Raby N, Berman L, Morley S, de Lacey G. 2015. Accident and Emergency Radiology: A survival Guide Third Edition, Sauders Elsevier page 106-110.

Shaath k, Souder C, Skaggs D. 2019. Orthobullets, Lateral Condyle Fracture – Pediatric Accessed 06/04/2019 https://www.orthobullets.com/pediatrics/4009/lateral-condyle-fracture–pediatric

Tan SHS, Dartnell J, Lim AKS, Hui JH. Paediatric lateral condyle fractures: a systematic review. Arch Orthop Trauma Surg. 2018 Jun;138(6):809-817. doi: 10.1007/s00402-018-2920-2. Epub 2018 Mar 24. Review. PubMed PMID: 29574555.

 

Finger injuries: basics and bones

Cite this article as:
Sinead Fox. Finger injuries: basics and bones, Don't Forget the Bubbles, 2020. Available at:
https://doi.org/10.31440/DFTB.27577

Introduction

Injuries to the hand are frequent in the paediatric population and are a common reason for presentation to the PED. Despite the frequency of these presentations, assessment and management of hand and finger injuries can be challenging. But never fear! DFTB have come to the rescue with a comprehensive two-part series related to the assessment and management of paediatric hand and finger injuries including some handy tips.

This first post will cover an overview of the basic anatomy of the hand, professional lingo as well as history taking and the clinical examination. Documentation essentials and common phalangeal and metacarpal fractures seen in PED will also be covered.  

First, let’s take a look at the basic anatomy of the bones of the hand.

Outlines the bones of the hand

Professional Lingo: Get to know your pinkie from your pointer!

Although it is helpful to know your pinkie from your pointer when talking to children, it is also important to have knowledge of the professional language used to document and describe hand injuries appropriately. This is not only important from a medico-legal point of view but having the ability to describe the exact location of clinical findings in professional terms makes communication and referral to specialist services much easier.

Clinical History/Documentation Essentials: Take a HAND history

H-          How the injury happened? Ask about mechanism of injury including the environment in which the injury was obtained.

              Hobbies. Ask about the child’s hobbies, sports, activities, career aspirations (in older child) as these may impact on management.

A-          Altered sensations. Ask about any altered sensations such as paraesthesia which could indicate a nerve injury.

N-          Needles/Needs Tetanus? Ask about vaccinations, is the child’s Tetanus vaccination up to date, especially relevant if open wounds or animal/human bites are present.

NAI        Like all paediatric injuries consider the possibility of NAI, especially in the younger child. A comprehensive history is essential to detect the possibility of intentional injury from physical abuse or an unintentional injury as a result of neglect. Consider injuries that are self-inflicted in the older child/adolescent age group.

D-          Dominance. Ask and record the child’s hand dominance as this can impact injury management.

Physical exam – look, feel, move

Clinical assessment of hand injuries involves a systematic exam of both hands including inspection, palpation, and range of motion (ROM).

1. Look

  • Once the child has received appropriate analgesia and you have established a rapport with the child and their parent, begin by looking at the hand without touching, observe the child’s hand at rest and play, involve a play specialist if available- they always bring the right amount of magic to get even the sorest of little hands and fingers moving!
  • Look for bruising, swelling, abrasions or open wounds. Assess for nail bed injuries.
  • Check for any clinical deformities including a rotational deformity which may not become apparent until the child makes a fist. Minimally displaced fractures may be clinically significant if they result in a rotational deformity, so it is vital to routinely assess for same. It is good practice to include the presence or absence of a rotational deformity in your documentation.
Rotational deformity – the normal cascade should point to the thenar eminence

2. Feel

  • Examine the child’s unaffected hand first and keep the child chatting throughout the exam, it helps reduce the child’s anxiety and allows the child to build trust in you.
  • Remember to examine the whole hand. It is important to develop a systematic approach to the examination of the hand including palpation of the wrist, carpal bones (including anatomical snuff box and scaphoid tubercle) metacarpals, metacarpophalangeal joints (MCPJs), phalanges, proximal interphalangeal joints (PIPJs) and distal interphalangeal joints (DIPJs).  Systematic palpation of the entire hand can help localise underlying fractures and concomitant injuries.
  • Evaluate and document neurovascular status.

Examination Pearl: The Wrinkle Test

Neurological assessment in young children or children/adolescents with difficulties communicating can be particularly challenging as they may be unable to report the presence or absence of sensation. The wrinkle test measures autonomic function of peripheral nerves via placement of the child’s hand in warm water for 10 minutes, wrinkles on the fingers indicate intact neurological function.

3. Move

  • Getting a child to move an injured hand can be challenging but certain familiar gestures such as high fives, thumbs up or fist bumps can be used to assess active range of movement in a young or uncooperative child.
  • A game of paper, rock, scissors is a fun and systematic way to test peripheral nerves in children with upper limb injuries. 
  • Be vigilant for tendon injuries. Check out the DFTB finger tendon and ligament injuries post for further details and clinical pearls related to the assessment of specific tendon functions. These functional tests should be included in every clinical examination of an injured hand.

Phalangeal Fractures

Approximately 20% of hand injuries in children are fractures. In particular, the phalanges are the most frequently injured bones of the hand with distal phalangeal and proximal phalangeal base fractures being the most commonly diagnosed fractures.

Proximal phalangeal base fractures

It’s a sunny June afternoon and Patrick a 9-year-old boy is brought to your ED by his Dad. Patrick reports it is the last day of school term before the summer holidays, he tells you he was so excited that when the final bell rang he threw his book bag in the air but, as the bag landed his left little finger got caught in the strap. It sounds like his finger was forcefully abducted by the weight of the bag. He shows you his swollen, bruised, and painful pinkie.  

Mechanism

Typically, proximal phalangeal base fractures result from a finger being abducted beyond acceptable limits of the MCP joints.

Presentation

A child with a proximal base phalangeal fracture will typically present with swelling, ecchymosis, and focal tenderness on palpation to base of proximal phalanx. A displaced fracture to the base of the proximal phalanx can cause malrotation of the finger. A significantly displaced fracture or a fracture that causes a rotational deformity requires closed reduction to correct the deformity.

Imaging

Oblique, PA, and lateral X-rays of the injured fingers should be obtained. True lateral X-ray is the most effective way to examine joint congruity. Angulation of proximal phalanx fractures is best seen on the lateral projection.

Salter-Harris Classification

Fractures involving the physis are described by the Salter-Harris Classification system as types I-V.  Salter- Harris type II fractures of the proximal phalanx are a common type of finger fracture in children.

  • Salter-Harris type I fractures involve only the physis and can be difficult to diagnose because X-Rays typically appear normal unless there is displacement.
  • Salter-Harris type II fractures involve extension through the physis and metaphysis.
  • Salter-Harris type III fractures extend through the physis and epiphysis.
  • Salter-Harris type IV fractures extend through the physis, metaphysis and epiphysis.
  • Salter-Harris type V fractures involve crush injuries that shatter the physis. 

Treatment

Non- Operative: Un-displaced or minimally displaced Salter-Harris type I or II fractures of the proximal phalanx without clinical deformity are usually managed with buddy taping to an adjacent finger for support and encouragement of early range of motion, typically for 3-4 weeks.

For displaced Salter Harris type II fractures of the proximal phalanx closed reduction can be carried out in ED. Depending on the age and preference of the child, closed reduction can be performed using a ring block +/- procedural sedation. The proximity of the physis assures a high degree of remodelling. The ED practitioner’s thumb or a cylindrical object such as a pen or pencil can be used to achieve adequate reduction. Post reduction stability is maintained by buddy tapping +/- splinting.

Operative: Severely displaced, unstable or open fractures require evaluation by a hand surgeon.

X-ray shows a displaced Salter-Harris type II fracture to the base of Patrick’s proximal phalanx. There is a rotational deformity on clinical exam. You reduce the fracture in ED using a ring block and Nitrous Oxide. On reassessment post reduction the clinical deformity is corrected and check X-rays are satisfactory. You discharge Patrick home with his finger buddy taped and arrange follow up in an outpatient clinic.  

Phalangeal shaft, neck and condylar fractures

Phalangeal shaft fractures

Treatment for fractures along the shaft of the phalanges is dictated by the orientation of the fracture as well as the degree of angulation on initial presentation. Clinical exam is also extremely important as even innocuous appearing fractures along the phalangeal shaft can be clinically significant if they cause a rotational deformity of the injured digit. A rotational deformity must be corrected as failure to do so can lead to long term functional impairments for the child.

Non operative: For length stable fractures with minimal displacement, buddy taping to an adjacent finger for support and to allow early range of motion can be an effective treatment for approximately 3-4 weeks.

Operative: Oblique or spiral fractures requiring closed reduction need more rigid immobilisation such as an ulnar or radial guttar splint or cast. Alignment of these fractures can be difficult to maintain and fixation is often required; surgical opinion is advised.

Surgery is also indicated in cases of open or severely displaced fractures or where there is instability post-reduction.

X-ray of long oblique proximal phalanx shaft fracture Courtesy of Orthobullets: https://www.orthobullets.com/hand/6114/phalanx-fractures

Phalangeal neck fractures

Neck fractures of the proximal and middle phalanges are classic paediatric injuries, rarely seen in adults. They typically result from a crush injury to the finger such as a child getting the finger caught in a closing door.

Non operative: Non-displaced fractures to the neck of the proximal or middle phalanges can usually be managed safely by immobilizing the digit for 3-4 weeks.

Operative: Surgical consultation is recommended for any displaced neck fractures as these are inherently unstable and require close follow up.

Condylar fractures

The condyles are a pair of tuberosities that form the distal articular surfaces of the proximal and middle phalanges. Condylar fractures are intra-articular fractures and can be unstable, therefore surgical consultation is recommended as these fractures require meticulous reduction to ensure proper joint congruity.

Volar plate avulsion injuries

Tori is a 14-year-old girl and a talented soccer goalie. She reports that while trying to save a penalty, her right middle finger was forcefully hyperextended and is now very painful. She shows you her right middle finger which is swollen and bruised at the PIPJ.

An overview of volar plate injuries

The volar plate lies between the flexor tendons and the palmar PIPJ capsule. It originates from the proximal phalanx and inserts into the middle phalanx. The volar plate contributes to the stability of the PIPJ by preventing hyperextension of the PIPJ.  Volar plate injuries encompass a spectrum of soft tissue injuries and can occur with an avulsion fracture at the volar base of the middle phalanx.  Subluxation or dislocation of the PIPJ may also occur.

Mechanism

Volar plate injuries are commonly caused by forced, sudden hyperextension injuries of the PIPJ, seen typically in older children/adolescents involved in hand/contact sports. Occasionally volar plate injuries can be caused by a crush injury to the digit.

Presentation

Diagnosis of a volar plate injury is based on history and clinical examination. Typically, there is swelling of the PIPJ. Bruising to the volar surface of the PIPJ is sometimes observed. Maximal tenderness on palpation is over the volar PIPJ and the patients may report pain on passive hyperextension of the PIPJ. The collateral ligaments should be tested as with collateral ligament injuries to check stability of the PIPJ.

 X-rays may reveal an avulsion fracture at the base of the volar surface of the middle phalanx and can help identify PIPJ subluxation or dislocation.

Case courtesy of Dr Mohammad A. ElBeialy, Radiopaedia.org. From the case rID: 46050

Treatment

Non- operative: A stable joint without a large avulsion fracture (<40% of articular segment) and/or a reducible fracture with 30 degrees of flexion is usually managed conservatively with splinting. In less severe injuries the injured finger can be buddy taped.

Operative: Surgical opinion should be sought if there is instability of the PIPJ or there is a large avulsion fracture.

When you examine Tori’s hand there is an isolated injury to Tori’s right middle finger as evidenced by swelling, bruising and tenderness to the PIPJ. Although active ROM is painful, Tori is able to fully extend and flex the finger. X-ray demonstrates a small avulsion fracture to the volar base of the middle phalanx on her right middle finger and you correctly diagnose her with a volar plate injury. Tori’s injury is stable and suitable for buddy taping to allow for early range of motion and prevent stiffness.

Distal Phalangeal Fractures

Distal tuft fracture

Khalid is a 2-year-old boy. He is brought to ED by his Mum as he caught his right index finger in the hinge side of a closing door. You examine his hands and note swelling and erythema to the distal phalanx of his right index finger. There is no nail bed injury or open wounds and he is moving the finger freely as you observe him playing with a toy tractor which was kindly supplied by the PED play specialist. His Mum appears more upset than he is, so you calmly reassure her that a serious finger injury is unlikely but an X-ray is required to rule out a fracture.

Mechanism

Distal tuft fractures are common in the toddler or pre-school age groups and typically occur as a result of direct crush injuries such as getting little fingers caught in a closing door.

Presentation

A concomitant nail bed laceration or pulp laceration may be present in children who have a distal tuft fracture. In this case the fracture is classed as an open fracture and opinion should be sought from Plastic Surgery Team. Check out the DFTB post on fingertip injuries for more information related to the assessment and management of nail bed injuries. Be alert for injury to flexor/extensor tendons.

Treatment

Non-Operative: Most children who have a closed distal tuft fracture are treated conservatively with splinting or buddy taping.

Operative: Surgical treatment is reserved for patients with distal tuft fractures who have nail bed injuries, subtotal/total amputations, or an unstable transverse fracture pattern.

X-ray demonstrates an un-displaced tuft fracture. You buddy tape Khalid’s fingers and reassure Mum that the fracture is small and unlikely to cause Khalid any functional problems.

Seymour fractures

Jordan is a 12-year-old boy who is brought to the PED with an injury to his left thumb. During a rugby match he was tackled to the ground and an opposition player stood on his thumb. He shows you a swollen, bruised partially flexed thumb. There is blood at the proximal nail fold and the nail plate is partially avulsed. The finger is visibly contaminated with dirt and soil from the rugby pitch, so you irrigate it with saline prior to X-ray and check that Jordan’s vaccination status is up to date.

Mechanism

A Seymour fracture is an injury unique to children. This fracture pattern is usually caused by a crush injury and results in an angulated Salter-Harris type I or Salter-Harris type II fracture with an associated nail bed injury. It is important to recognise this fracture pattern as early referral to a hand surgeon is important to avoid complications.

Presentation

The typical presentation is a swollen, bruised, and painful finger flexed at the DIPJ. There may be blood under the nail or the nail plate can be completely avulsed proximally causing it to sit superficial to the eponynchial fold (aka proximal nail fold). Soft tissue (often the germinal matrix of the nail) can become interposed in the fracture which prevents fracture reduction and healing.

Imaging

PA X-ray views of the injured finger often appear normal. Lateral view X-ray are used to confirm the diagnosis.

Pro tip! Because of the flexed appearance at the DIPJ, a Seymour fracture can be misinterpreted as bony mallet injury; however a mallet finger fracture line enters DIPJ, while Seymour fracture line traverses physis (does not enter DIPJ).

Treatment

Non-Operative: Closed injuries are managed with closed reduction and splinting. The child may be followed up with a weekly X-ray to ensure maintenance of fracture reduction.

Operative: Substantive injuries require open reduction and nail bed repair.

Bottom Line

It is important to seek surgical opinion regarding the management of Seymour fractures as if left untreated possible complications include osteomyelitis, malunion, and pre-closure of the physis.

Jordan’s x-ray shows an angulated Salter-Harris type II fracture to the distal phalanx and you correctly diagnose a Seymour fracture. You refer Jordan to the plastic surgery team who decide to take Jordan to theatre to ensure a thorough washout and repair of the nail bed injury.

Metacarpal Fractures

Katie is a 15-year-old girl who presents to your ED with her father. Her father reports that she had an argument with her Mum and punched a wall at home, he also reports that this is not the first time an incident like this has occurred. Katie shows you her right hand which is grossly swollen and bruised over the dorsal surface. There are no open wounds and she reports focal tenderness on palpation to her 5th metacarpal bone. There is an obvious loss of knuckle height and rotational deformity to her little finger. During the exam she is visibly withdrawn and quiet and you are suspicious that there is more than a hand injury bothering Katie.  

Mechanism

Metacarpal fractures are common in adolescent athletes. The most common type of metacarpal fracture is the so-called ‘‘boxer’s fracture’’, which involves the neck of the ring or small finger metacarpal. This injury usually occurs as a result of direct bony trauma when the child/adolescent strikes a fixed object such as a wall with a closed fist or is struck on a fisted hand with an object such as a bat/hurl/hockey stick for example.

Presentation

The child/adolescent will usually present with bruising, swelling and diffuse pain over the dorsum of the hand. There may be loss of knuckle prominence. Be vigilant for rotational deformity; no degree of malrotation is acceptable.

Ensure to evaluate skin integrity over the injured area, check for and document the presence of open wounds; consider the possibility that these could be so-called ‘’fight bites’’ and will require antibiotics. Substantial injuries or infected open wounds require a surgical opinion as these may require admission for IV antibiotic cover and washout in theatre. Check integrity of flexor/extensor tendons in the presence of open wounds. Remember to check Tetanus vaccination status.

A child/adolescent who presents to the PED with a hand injury because of a fight or an injury mechanism such as puching a wall requires special attention- screening for mental health and/or social problems is paramount. Involvement of medical social worker teams or mental health teams may be necessary. The HEEADSSS screening tool may be useful to guide this line of inquiry.  

Treatment

Treatment is generally based on the level of injury (e.g. head, neck, shaft and base) and clinical findings (rotational deformities, open wounds, fracture stability).  

Un-displaced stable fractures of the neck or shaft (2nd-5th metacarpals)

Non-operative: Can be treated in rest volar splint/back -slab and followed up in clinic

Angulated neck of metacarpal fractures

Most common is fracture of 5th metacarpal or  ‘‘Boxer’s fracture’’

Treatment guided by degree of angulation. Seek surgical opinion

Non-operative: Closed reduction in PED using nerve block +/- procedural sedation and immobilisation in cast

Operative: Surgery may be required in the presence of open wounds, suspected tendon injuries or if angular deformity is substantial and/ or there is a rotational deformity on clinical exam.

Case courtesy of Dr Benoudina Samir, Radiopaedia.org. From the case rID: 23848

Displaced intra articular, unstable, comminuted or unstable fractures

Operative: These fractures all require surgical referral

Metacarpal head fracture (intra-articular) Courtesy of Orthobullets: https://www.orthobullets.com/hand/6037/metacarpal-fractures

Thumb metacarpal fractures

Thumb metacarpal base fractures require surgical opinion. Disruption of carpometacarpal (CMC) joint congruity can result in significant functional impairments for a child/adolescent particularly loss or limitation of pincer or power grip.

Specific names are given to fractures of the base of the 1st metacarpal

  • Bennett fracture: defined as an intra-articular 2-part fracture of the base of 1st metacarpal bone *(see also Reverse Bennett fracture below)
  • Rolando fracture: similar to Bennett fracture but prognosis is worse. Defined as a comminuted intra-articular fracture of the 1st metacarpal, producing at least 3 parts.

X-ray demonstrates a severely angulated fracture to the neck of Katie’s 5th metacarpal bone. Taking this into consideration and the presence of rotational deformity, you refer her to the hand surgery team for management. They decide to admit her for manipulation under anaesthetic (MUA). While awaiting admission you get the opportunity to establish a rapport and talk to Katie about her mental health. You use the HEEADSSS screening tool to guide your inquiry. She reveals information about difficulties at home related to her mother’s substance abuse and reports that she has been missing a lot of school due to bullying. Katie agrees that she needs help dealing with these issues and you refer her to the inpatient mental health team with her permission. Her dad is also informed.

*Reverse Bennett fracture dislocation

An intra-articular fracture dislocation of the base of 5th metacarpal bone is called a reverse Bennett fracture. This fracture pattern is inherently unstable and referral to hand specialist is essential.

Reverse Bennett fracture dislocation Case courtesy of Dr Alborz Jahangiri, https://radiopaedia.org/cases/reverse-bennett-fracture-dislocation-1

References

Andy Neill. AFEM 033 | Hand: Lingo and soft tissues. Retrieved from https://litfl.com/bscc/clinical-anatomy/hand-anatomy/

Abzug, J. M., Dua, K., Bauer, A. S., Cornwall, R., & Wyrick, T. O. (2016). Pediatric phalanx fractures. Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons24(11), e174-e183.

Sullivan, M. A., Cogan, C. J., & Adkinson, J. M. (2016). Pediatric hand injuries. Plastic Surgical Nursing36(3), 114-120.

Wahba, G., & Cheung, K. (2018). Pediatric hand injuries: Practical approach for primary care physicians. Canadian Family Physician64(11), 803-810.

Weber, D. M., Seiler, M., Subotic, U., Kalisch, M., & Weil, R. (2019). Buddy taping versus splint immobilization for paediatric finger fractures: a randomized controlled trial. Journal of Hand Surgery (European Volume)44(6), 640-647.

Apophysitis

Cite this article as:
Stephen Gilmartin. Apophysitis, Don't Forget the Bubbles, 2020. Available at:
https://doi.org/10.31440/DFTB.24364

David is a 12-year-old boy who attends the emergency department complaining of bilateral heel pain. His pain has been getting gradually worse over the past month. He is a keen footballer, but his symptoms have gotten to the stage where he is now unable to play through his pain.

 

Apophysitis is a term used to describe a group of overuse traction injuries which commonly cause pain in adolescents. We have all heard of Osgood Schlatter disease. It is the most common form of apophysitis. Other anatomical areas that are commonly affected include the inferior pole of patella (Sinding-Larsen-Johansson), calcaneal tuberosity (Sever’s), medial epicondyle of the elbow (within spectrum of Little League elbow) and various sites on the pelvis. They’re subtly different from osteochondrosis, which is instead due to changes in the epiphyseal ossification centre.

An apophysis is an area of bony growth separate to the ossification centres. It acts as a site of tendon or ligament attachment and will eventually fuse with the bone as the body matures. Rapid growth and relative bone weakness combined with repetitive movements cause increased traction forces at the point of attachment. The apophysis is the weakest point in the muscle-tendon-bone junction; repeated strain at this point leads to bone fragmentation and micro-separation. This abnormal growth leads to swelling and pain at the site. Similar overuse injuries result in tendon and muscle injuries in adults.

Apophysitis is most common during ages of peak growth i.e. between 10-14 years in girls and 12-16 years in boys. Apophysitis is traditionally more common in boys, but the incidence is growing in girls. This is likely linked to increasing sports participation rates among girls of this age. The mean age of onset is younger in girls due to the earlier appearance of the ossification centres. Earlier fusion leads to the cessation of symptoms at a younger age in girls when compared to boys. In lower limb apophysitis, up to 50% of patients will experience bilateral symptoms.



 

Let’s take a look at some x-rays

This 11-year-old male basketball player has been complaining of heel pain. His ankle x-ray shows increased density of the calcaneal apophysis, typically seen in children between 7 and 14 years with Sever’s Disease. There is loss of fat/soft tissue planes in the region of the retrocalcaneal bursa in keeping with acute inflammation.

Case courtesy of Dr Dinesh Brand, Radiopaedia.org. From the case rID: 60324

 

This 12-year-old female long-distance runner complains of anterior knee pain, localised to the inferior aspect of her patella. Her lateral knee x-ray shows dystrophic ossification of the inferior patella with subtle thickening of proximal patellar tendon. These changes are consistent with a diagnosis of Sinding-Larsen-Johansson.

Sinding-Larsen-Johansson. Case courtesy of Dr Michael Sargent, Radiopaedia.org. From the case rID: 6323

 

This 13-year-old female volleyball player presents with progressive pain over her tibial tuberosity. Her pain is exacerbated by jumping. Her lateral knee x-ray shows fragmentation of apophysis with overlying soft tissue swelling, classic for Osgood Schlatter Disease. Some isolated fragmentation can be normal at the tibial tuberosity.

Osgood Schlatter’s Disease. Case courtesy of Dr Hani Salam, Radiopaedia.org. From the case rID: 9740

 

This 11-year-old boy presents to the ED with worsening elbow pain. He is an avid cricket player and is trying to make his county underage team but finds his pain much worse while bowling. His AP elbow x-ray shows widening of the physis at the medial epicondyle. This is consistent with a diagnosis of Little League Elbow. You may also see fragmentation.

Little League Elbow from Orthobullets

 

This is an MRI of a 14-year-old male long-distance runner complaining of anterior hip pain. His pain is becoming increasingly worse on running and is now affecting his times. MRI shows bone marrow and surrounding soft tissue oedema at the anterior superior iliac spine involving the sartorius muscle origin without separation as may occur in an acute avulsion injury. This is consistent with ASIS (anterior superior iliac spine) apophysitis. Plain radiographs are usually normal or may only show subtle changes of pelvic apophysitis.

ASIS apophysitis. Case courtesy of Dr Chris O’Donnell, Radiopaedia.org. From the case rID: 31877

 

History and exam

Apophysitis has a typical history and the diagnosis is largely based on an accurate history and exam. An adolescent will present with gradual onset focal pain over the involved site. They are typically highly active and may be going through an acute increase in there training levels. They may be currently progressing to higher levels of sport or competing in multiple sports at multiple grades. The initial symptom will be pain present at the start of physical activity. In the early stages the pain will often subside once the child has fully warmed up, only to return once they have cooled down. As the process progresses the child will have persisting symptoms throughout physical activity and the pain will eventually result in total cessation of activity.

Clinical examination will reveal point tenderness over the affected site. There may be mild swelling over the area. Pain will be reproduced by resisted contraction of the affected muscle, e.g. resisted plantar flexion of the ankle in Sever’s disease and resisted knee extension in Osgood-Schlatter’s. A good way to assess this is to ask the patient to demonstrate actions which exacerbate their pain.

 

Differential diagnosis

Alternative diagnoses and investigations should be considered if there are any concerning features on history or exam. Atypical features on presentation are:

  • Sudden onset pain
  • Pyrexia
  • Non-weightbearing
  • History of trauma
  • Point of tenderness or age of patient not typical for apophysitis.

The most common differential diagnoses are osteomyelitis, avulsion fractures, osteochondritis, stress fractures and malignancy. Investigations should be performed in accordance with suspected differential diagnosis.

The below cases and accompanying images highlight the need for you have possible alternative diagnoses in the back of your mind. The patient should be presenting with gradual onset pain, over an apophysis site, at the appropriate age (10-16) for apophysitis. A history which includes high levels or sudden increase in activity can be helpful. Any atypical features should be actively sought out.

 

This elbow x-ray is from a 13-year-old male baseball pitcher attending with sudden onset medial elbow pain. The medial epicondyle is displaced with a sliver adjacent bone, representing a medial epicondyle avulsion fracture. There is marked adjacent soft tissue swelling and joint effusion. Compare this to the Little League elbow x-ray.

Medial epicondyl avulsion fracture. Case courtesy of Dr Henry Knipe, Radiopaedia.org. From the case rID: 41533

 

A 10-year-old female basketball player attended with sudden onset knee pain following a fall. The x-ray shows a bone fragment avulsed from inferior patella at point of tendon insertion with moderate overlying soft tissue swelling: a patella sleeve fracture. This contrasts with the findings of dystrophic ossification of Sinding-Larsen-Johansson.

Patella sleeve fracture. Case courtesy of Dr Yuan Ling, Radiopaedia.org. From the case rID: 69680

 

A 13-year-old female long jumper attends with anterior knee pain following a fall resulting in forced flexion of their flexed knee. She has significant pain and is unable to straight leg raise. Her x-ray shows displacement of tibial tuberosity with significant overlying soft tissue swelling: an avulsion fracture of the tibial tuberosity. Compare this to the typical radiographic features of fragmentation and mild swelling observed in Osgood-Schlatter disease.

Tibial tuberosity avulsion fracture. Case courtesy of Radiopaedia.org. From the case rID: 12022

 

A 13-year-old girl presents with worsening ankle/heel pain over the last week. Her pain is exacerbated on while running and playing football. She has been pyrexic over the past 24 hours and is now unable to weight bear. The x-ray of her ankle shows diffuse soft tissue swelling abutting the distal end of her fibula. There is suspicious erosion of distal fibular cortex. These findings are suspicious for osteomyelitis of the distal fibula.

Osteomyelitis of the distal fibula. Case courtesy of Dr Maulik S Patel, Radiopaedia.org. From the case rID: 10046

 

An 8-year-old boy attends with gradual onset knee pain while running. He begins to notice some associated swelling. His mother feels he is becoming increasingly lethargic. Lateral x-ray shows sclerotic lesion involving the dia-metaphyseal region of the tibia with a wide zone of transition and characteristic “Sunburst ” type of periosteal reaction seen in osteosarcomas.

Osteosarcoma of the tibia. Case courtesy of Dr Iqbal Naseem, Radiopaedia.org. From the case rID: 22814

 

Investigations

Despite the diagnosis being clinical, a baseline x-ray is often useful. An x-ray can help ensure there is no avulsion fracture and a study by Rachel et al found x-rays changed management in up to 5% of patients with Sever’s disease.

Findings of apophysitis can vary on imaging and some patients may not show any radiological changes on plain films. The typical x-ray findings include increased density and fragmentation at secondary ossification centres. Overlying soft tissue swelling can often be seen. MRI will reveal increased fluid signal, apophyseal oedema and fragmentation.

This lateral plain film view shows the calcaneal apophysis with high density and fragmentation consistent with Sever’s disease.

Sever’s on x-ray. Case courtesy of Dr Fateme Hosseinabadi , Radiopaedia.org. From the case rID: 69971

Compare the x-ray to this MRI image showing oedema and fragmentation at the calcaneal apophysis and extending into the adjacent calcaneal tuberosity. These findings are commonly seen in patients with Sever’s disease.

Sever’s on MRI. Case courtesy of Dr Paulo A Noronha, Radiopaedia.org. From the case rID: 63302

 

Treatment

Apophysitis is a self-limiting process. Most patients will return to full activity following 4-6 weeks of rest or reduced activity. Despite successful return to activity, patients may continue to experience some symptoms. The symptoms will cease definitively once growth centres fuse.

The focus of treatment should be to reduce symptoms sufficiently to allow continued sports participation.

Strategies shown to improve recovery are

  • analgesia
  • activity modification
  • muscle stretching and strengthening programmes

Other therapies which have little evidence but may be helpful in some cases include

  • ice application
  • foot orthotics or heel raises in Sever’s disease
  • taping or bracing

There is no place for surgery in the standard treatment of apophysitis. Any short-term benefit observed from surgery cannot be justified when weighed against the potential damage to an immature skeleton. Surgery may be considered an option if there is a displaced avulsion fracture or a loose body in an affected joint.

 

Prevention

Apophysitis is a largely preventable process and as a result recent focus has been placed on both primary and secondary prevention programmes. It can be difficult at an individual level to make changes as these patients tend to be highly active and competitive people. This has seen some youth sport bodies enforcing limits on game participation and mandatory rest to avoid repetitive strain.

Simple advice to give parents and children include:

  1. Encourage 1-2 days off from competitive sport per week
  2. Encourage 2-3 months off from each sport per year
  3. Participate on only one team per sport
  4. Avoid early sport specialisation
  5. Avoid increasing levels of training by more than 10% from one week to the next
  6. Maintain good sleep, hydration and dietary habits.

 

Take home tips

  • Apophysitis has a typical history of gradual onset pain over an apophysis in highly active adolescents.
  • It is a self-limiting process but can cause debilitating pain.
  • Treatment should focus on analgesia, activity modification and muscle stretching programmes.
  • Symptoms will resolve definitively once ossification centres fuse.

 

Not to miss bits

  • Any atypical features should be investigated appropriately. The area around the apophysis is a common site for avulsion fractures, osteomyelitis and malignancy.
  • These patients are high risk for other overuse injuries. All patients should be given secondary prevention advice.

 

And our favourites, the controversies

  • Despite the diagnosis being clinical, baseline x-rays can be useful to out-rule other differential diagnoses.
  • There is little evidence displaying additional benefit for treatment with taping or splints.
  • Custom orthotics can be useful for patients suffering from Sever’s Disease.

 

David undertook a month long physio led programme of activity modification and muscle stretching. He was given secondary prevention advice to avoid overtraining. He is now back to symptom free football participation.  

 

References

Brenner, J. S. (2007). Overuse Injuries, Overtraining, and Burnout in Child and Adolescent Athletes. Pediatrics, 119(6), 1242 LP – 1245

Elengard, T., Karlsson, J., & Silbernagel, K. G. (2010). Aspects of treatment for posterior heel pain in young athletes. Open Access Journal of Sports Medicine, 1, 223–232.

Fleisig, G. S., Andrews, J. R., Cutter, G. R., Weber, A., Loftice, J., McMichael, C., Hassell, N., & Lyman, S. (2011). Risk of serious injury for young baseball pitchers: a 10-year prospective study. The American Journal of Sports Medicine, 39(2), 253–257.

Frush, T. J., & Lindenfeld, T. N. (2009). Peri-epiphyseal and Overuse Injuries in Adolescent Athletes. Sports Health, 1(3), 201–211.

Gregory, B., & Nyland, J. (2013). Medial elbow injury in young throwing athletes. Muscles, Ligaments and Tendons Journal, 3(2), 91–100.

Guldhammer, C., Rathleff, M. S., Jensen, H. P., & Holden, S. (2019). Long-term Prognosis and Impact of Osgood-Schlatter Disease 4 Years After Diagnosis: A Retrospective Study. In Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine (Vol. 7, Issue 10, p. 2325967119878136).

James, A. M., Williams, C. M., & Haines, T. P. (2013). “Effectiveness of interventions in reducing pain and maintaining physical activity in children and adolescents with calcaneal apophysitis (Sever’s disease): a systematic review.” Journal of Foot and Ankle Research, 6(1), 16.

Rachel, J. N., Williams, J. B., Sawyer, J. R., Warner, W. C., & Kelly, D. M. (2011). Is Radiographic Evaluation Necessary in Children With a Clinical Diagnosis of Calcaneal Apophysitis (Sever Disease)? Journal of Pediatric Orthopaedics, 31(5).

Ramponi, D. R., & Baker, C. (2019). Sever’s Disease (Calcaneal Apophysitis). Advanced Emergency Nursing Journal, 41(1), 10–14.

Vaishya, R., Azizi, A. T., Agarwal, A. K., & Vijay, V. (2016). Apophysitis of the Tibial Tuberosity (Osgood-Schlatter Disease): A Review. Cureus, 8(9), e780–e780.

Wiegerinck, J. I., Zwiers, R., Sierevelt, I. N., van Weert, H. C. P. M., van Dijk, C. N., & Struijs, P. A. A. (2016). Treatment of Calcaneal Apophysitis: Wait and See Versus Orthotic Device Versus Physical Therapy: A Pragmatic Therapeutic Randomized Clinical Trial. Journal of Pediatric Orthopaedics, 36(2).

Cairns G, Owen T, Kluzek S, et al. Therapeutic interventions in children and adolescents with patellar tendon related pain: a systematic review. BMJ Open Sport & Exercise Medicine 2018

Cairns, G., Owen, T., Kluzek, S., Thurley, N., Holden, S., Rathleff, M. S., & Dean, B. J. F. (2018). Therapeutic interventions in children and adolescents with patellar tendon related pain: a systematic review. BMJ Open Sport &amp;Amp; Exercise Medicine, 4(1), e000383.

 

Osteochondrosis

Cite this article as:
Stephen Gilmartin. Osteochondrosis, Don't Forget the Bubbles, 2020. Available at:
https://doi.org/10.31440/DFTB.25054

The Limp family arrive at the emergency department with two of their children. Katie is a 10-year-old complaining of right foot pain.  The pain has been getting worse over the past month and she is now beginning to develop some stiffness.  She is a keen athlete and trains five times per week.  Her younger brother Michael is a six-year-old attending with progressive left hip pain.  Both children’s injuries were atraumatic, and they are systemically well.

 

Introduction

Osteochondrosis is a disorder of bone growth primarily involving the ossification centres at the epiphysis.  It commonly begins in childhood and results in osteonecrosis of the growth plate.  This can lead to altered bone and cartilage formation beyond the growth plate.

Although often confused with apophysitis, which is more clearly due to traction overuse injuries, osteochondrosis is often described as idiopathic osteonecrosis as there has been no definite cause found.  There have been some links showing genetic factors and high activity levels can increase a person’s risk of developing osteochondrosis.

 

 

 

History and examination

Osteochondrosis presents in a similar fashion independent of location.  The symptoms will have a subacute onset with one or more of; joint pain, swelling or dysfunction.  The patient may comment on symptoms worsening while stressing the site during activity.  This is typical in throwing or gymnastics for Panner disease and weight-bearing activities such as running and jumping in lower limb osteochondrosis.

The joint involved may have mild swelling and tenderness.  Other common findings are stiffness and a reduced range of motion. Active children will often seek medical attention once their pain and stiffness begin to affect sporting performance.

Important points to establish on history and exam are no sudden pain, absence of temperature and no systemic complaints. This will help you to consider important differentials including osteomyelitis, malignancy and stress fractures.

 

Investigations

X-ray is the diagnostic tool of choice. Findings depend on anatomical location and the stage of disease.  Each location has its own radiological criteria which can be quickly referenced online.  MRI may be required in certain cases if the diagnosis remains unclear following initial imaging. Early typical x-ray findings are potentially normal. Radiological findings tend to show:

Initial findings

  • Irregular epiphyseal growth
  • Flattening of the epiphysis
  • Soft tissue swelling

As disease progresses

  • Sclerosis
  • Fragmentation
  • Joint destruction

Blood tests have no role in the diagnosis of osteochondrosis but will aid the work-up of possible differentials including infection and malignancy.

 

Perthes Disease

A 10-year-old boy presents to the ED with progressive left leg pain.  It has been progressing over the past few months with normal knee x-ray.  The pain is now becoming localised to the hip. He has a hip x-ray performed which shows flattening of the femoral head with widening of the femoral neck.  There is increased joint space and sclerosis at the physis.  His x-ray shows advanced Perthes disease.

Case courtesy of Dr Michael Sargent, Radiopaedia.org. From the case rID: 5978

 

Panner Disease

A 13-year-old cricket player attends with elbow pain.  The pain started gradually while bowling.  He is now complaining of stiffness and pain which is affecting his performance. His x-ray shows irregularity of the capitellum with associated sclerosis. These findings are consistent with a diagnosis of Panner disease.

Image source Orthobullets.com

 

Freiberg’s Disease

A 15-year-old female runner presents complaining of progressive forefoot pain while training.

Her x-ray shows widening of the metatarsophalangeal joint.  There is flattening of the metatarsal head with cystic lesions.  These findings are seen in Freiberg disease. Progressive disease will show sclerosis and increased cortical thickening.

Case courtesy of Dr Hani Salam, Radiopaedia.org. From the case rID: 9296

 

Kohler Disease

A 9-year-old presents with worsening left foot pain.  X-ray reveals thinning and sclerosis of the navicular bone.  This is typical for Kohler disease.  You may see fragmentation in advanced cases.

Case courtesy of Dr Maulik S Patel, Radiopaedia.org. From the case rID: 18657

 

Treatment

Osteochondrosis is self-limiting and the bone will eventually revascularize to a certain extent.  The goal of therapy is to facilitate maximal revascularisation while minimising long term symptoms.

An appropriate treatment plan should be decided on a case by case basis and in conjunction with orthopaedics, physiotherapists and the patient themselves.  Although there is limited evidence to guide the type and length of treatment, there are some factors which can help guide clinicians.

  • Radiological stage: There are radiological staging criteria unique to each form of osteochondrosis. These categorise disease progression on x-ray.
  • Joint function: Patients range of motion and stiffness should be assessed. If there is a significant loss of joint function the patient should be treated more aggressively to prevent progression
  • Patient symptoms: If the patient’s pain is significant, they may need some immobilisation to aid with pain prior to progression of their rehabilitation.
  • Age at presentation: as a rough rule of the thumb, the younger the patient’s bone age the more likely they are to respond to conservative management.

Three broad treatment strategies exist.

Conservative: This will involve modified activity to ensure no further stress is placed on the area involved. A physiotherapy programme can help to strengthen the area and improve joint function.  This approach is suitable for patients with minimal symptoms and early changes of disease progression on x-ray.

Immobilisation:  Immobilisation can be beneficial for patients with significant pain or more advanced changes on x-ray.  This may be in the form of a cast, walking boot or splint depending on the area involved.  This needs to be weighed up against the risk of worsening joint stiffness.

Surgery:  It is very rare if ever that patients will require surgery.  When used it is only in advanced stages of disease and when appropriate conservative management has proved ineffective. Surgical options include osteotomy, arthroplasty and physeal drilling.

 

Prognosis

Osteochondrosis is a self-limiting pathological process. Patients will usually show full clinical and radiological recovery if diagnosed and treated early. Despite this, some patients will continue to have long term pain and stiffness; this can occur despite appropriate treatment plans.

This is especially true for Perthes Disease patients have a high risk of arthritis and subsequently requiring a total hip replacement. One case series found that >50% of all Perthes Disease patients will require total hip replacement with the mean age of initial total hip replacement of 37.8 years.

Bone age of <6 years and <50% femoral head involvement have been shown to be good prognosticating factors for Perthes.

 

The Limps are delighted with your assessment.  Katie has been diagnosed with Kohler Disease.  You place her in a boot for 4 weeks for symptoms management.  Following this she undergoes a specific return to activity regime to manage her training load and recovery.  She is totally symptom-free at 6 months.

Michael is lucky that his diagnosis of Perthes was made early.  His x-ray shows he is in the early stages with minimal femoral head involvement and good femoral head coverage.  He is started on a physio programme with closely monitored clinical and radiographic assessment until full recovery.

 

Take homes

  • Osteochondrosis is an idiopathic osteonecrosis affecting children
  • It is diagnosed with a combination of accurate history and typical radiograph findings
  • Early diagnosis and treatment can aid a complete recovery
  • Bone age <6 years, <50% of femoral head involved and good femoral head coverage are good prognosticating factors for Perthes disease

Not to miss bits

  • Differential diagnoses including malignancy and infection may present similarly
  • Common systemic causes of osteonecrosis should not be missed i.e. haematological (sickle cell, malignancy), Rheumatological (SLE).
  • Although the pathophysiology of osteochondrosis is self-limited. If not treated promptly it can result in long term morbidity.

Controversies

  • Potential causative factors include genetic links and repetitive activity.
  • There are no firm directives regarding the length of treatments including immobilisation.
  • Benefits of surgery are variable and need to be considered on a case by case basis.

 

Selected references

Achar, S., & Yamanaka, J. (2019). Apophysitis and Osteochondrosis: Common Causes of Pain in Growing Bones. American Family Physician, 99(10), 610–618.

Claessen, F. M. A. P., Louwerens, J. K. G., Doornberg, J. N., van Dijk, C. N., Eygendaal, D., & van den Bekerom, M. P. J. (2015). Panner’s disease: literature review and treatment recommendations. Journal of Children’s Orthopaedics, 9(1), 9–17.

Terjesen, T., Wiig, O., & Svenningsen, S. (2010). The natural history of Perthes’ disease. Acta Orthopaedica, 81(6), 708–714.

Talusan, P. G., Diaz-Collado, P. J., & Reach, J. S. (2013). Freiberg’s Infraction: Diagnosis and Treatment. Foot & Ankle Specialist, 7(1), 52–56.

Olstad, K., Ekman, S., & Carlson, C. S. (2015). An Update on the Pathogenesis of Osteochondrosis. Veterinary Pathology, 52(5), 785–802.

Joseph, B. (2015). Management of Perthes’ disease. Indian Journal of Orthopaedics, 49(1), 10–16.

Masrouha, K. Z., Callaghan, J. J., & Morcuende, J. A. (2018). Primary Total Hip Arthroplasty for Legg-Calvé-Perthes Syndrome: 20 Year Follow-Up Study. The Iowa Orthopaedic Journal, 38, 197–202.

Chan, J. Y., & Young, J. L. (2019). K&#xf6;hler Disease: Avascular Necrosis in the Child. Foot and Ankle Clinics, 24(1), 83–88.

Triplane ankle fractures

Cite this article as:
Anna O'Leary. Triplane ankle fractures, Don't Forget the Bubbles, 2020. Available at:
https://doi.org/10.31440/DFTB.23578

Sean is 13 years old. He was playing basketball but when he jumped to score a basket he landed awkwardly on his ankle, twisting and externally rotating it. He immediately fell to the floor on the court and couldn’t weight bear on it. The swelling and bruising increased and he attended his local emergency department where he was told that he had a triplane ankle fracture.

 

Epidemiology

Although triplane ankle fractures account for only 5-15% of overall paediatric ankle fractures, along with Tillaux fractures, they are the most common ankle fractures in adolescents. This type of fracture represents a unique spectrum of injury that does not fit neatly into the Salter-Harris classification of physeal injury. They occur before complete closure of the distal tibial physis (hence why they occur in adolescents whose epiphyseal plates are closing) and are classically seen in 10-17 year olds. They are slightly more common in males.

 

History

Adolescents with triplane fractures will usually present to the emergency department with a very painful and swollen ankle after a twisting force to the leg during athletic or recreational activities. They are usually very reluctant or unable to weightbear.

 

Examination

There will often be swelling and bruising with focal or referred pain at the affected ankle. There may be deformity of the ankle. It is important also to examine skin integrity and the presence of neurologic defects or vascular injuries. Don’t forget to palpate the full length of the fibula to evaluate for a proximal fracture as well as along the foot to evaluate for injuries such as a fracture to the base of the 5th metatarsal.

 

Investigations

AP and lateral ankle xrays will help evaluated the fracture type. Addition of a mortise view, performed with the leg internally rotated approximately 15 degrees to allow better assessment of the articular space, should be included to assess the amount of displacement if this can’t be fully appreciated on the AP view (although in some countries the AP view is a mortise view).

The triplane fracture on x-ray looks like a Salter-Harris II or III depending on whether this is a medial or lateral triplane fracture. The fracture is in all three planes, classically looking like a Mercedes sign on CT.

 

Triplane Mercedes sign. From Orthobullets

 

It may be classified as in 2, 3 or 4 parts.

 

It is important not to miss fibular fractures which are seen in 50% of triplane fractures. Typically this is a spiral fracture pattern located proximal to the physis in children nearing skeletal maturity.

CT scans are not routinely performed in the emergency department but may be organized by the orthopaedic team. Small dislocations and the vertical component of the fracture are not infrequently overlooked. CT is therefore often organized to fully delineate fracture pattern and to assess the degree of intra-articular congruity.

 

Management

In the ED, as with any injury, ensure you prescribe adequate analgesia and provide assistance with non-weight bearing status, such as a wheelchair or crutches depending on the ability of the child. Placement in a boot or cast for comfort prior to definitive treatment by the orthopaedic team is appropriate.

Once the diagnosis is made, ongoing care depends on the degree of displacement. Orthopaedic review for consideration of conservative management versus operative management is important as these fractures will often need CT imaging to ensure adequate delineation of fracture pattern.

 

Conservative management

Fractures with minimal displacement (<2mm), particularly if they are 2 part triplane fractures, can often be managed with closed reduction and casting. If the fracture is in 3 or 4 parts, closed reduction is difficult to achieve.

Post reduction, place in a long leg/above knee cast for 3-4 weeks to control the rotational component of the injury, followed by a further 2-4 weeks in a short leg cast or walking boot to initiate ankle range of movement.

 

Operative Management

Any triplane fracture with >2mm displacement or that is in 3 or 4 parts is likely to require ORIF (Open Reduction, Internal Fixation). Intra-articular reduction to within 2 mm is required for optimal treatment of these unique paediatric ankle fractures.

A CT showing triplane fracture requiring ORIF with >2mm of displacement. You can clearly see why the fracture is called triplane, as it extends in 3 planes: coronal, sagittal and axial. Image from Orthobullets

 

Complications and Risks

  • Growth Arrest:

The main concern in an adolescent with a triplane fracture is growth arrest. This occurs in between 7-21% of triplane injuries. This is often insignificant but does mean that patients with more than 2 years of growth remaining must be closely followed up.

  • Ankle Pain and Degeneration:

Rare but increased risk with articular step greater than >2mm.

 

Controversies

As with all things orthopaedic, the debate continues: should these fractures be managed operatively or conservatively? Though still in preliminary research stages, recent evidence suggests that non-operative treatment of triplane fractures may have comparable clinical and radiographic results to operative treatment. Discussion with the orthopaedic team is advised prior to discharge given the different management options.

 

Things not to miss!

Don’t forget to examine the rest of the child’s lower limb when they present with a painful swollen ankle as there may be an associated accompanying fracture. Ensure that you examine and especially palpate both the foot and the entire length of the fibula. With rotational forces, proximal spiral fibula fractures and base of 5th metatarsal fractures are relatively common with triplane fractures. Carefully check and document neurovascular status as nerve injury can occasionally be associated with spiral fibular fractures.

Triple fracture with accompanying spiral fibula fracture. From Orthobullets

 

Sean was found to have a 2 part nondisplaced Triplane Fracture and was placed in an above-knee cast and followed up at his local orthopaedic outpatient clinic. He had interval x-rays which showed good healing and no evidence of displacement. After 4 weeks he was switched to a walking boot to encourage early ankle mobilization for another 2 weeks. He is looking forward to next year’s basketball season already!

 

References

Schnetzler, Kent A et al 2008 ‘The Pediatric Triplane Ankle Fracture’ The Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons 15(12):738-47

Hyman et al, MSK Key https://musculoskeletalkey.com/transitional-ankle-fractures-juvenile-tillaux-and-triplane-fractures/ Accessed at 09/02/20

Beaty JH, Kasser JR. Rockwood and Wilkins’ Fractures in Children. 6th ed. Baltimore, MD: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2006:1105

https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases–conditions/ankle-fractures-in-children/

Min Ryu, Seung et al 2017 ‘Is an operation always needed for pediatric triplane fractures?’ Journal of Pediatric Orthopaedics B 27(5):1 · November 2017

https://www.orthobullets.com/pediatrics/4029/triplane-fractures

https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases–conditions/ankle-fractures-in-children/

The Limping Child Module

Cite this article as:
Team DFTB. The Limping Child Module, Don't Forget the Bubbles, 2020. Available at:
https://doi.org/10.31440/DFTB.27391
TopicThe limping child
AuthorHelena Winstanley & Michelle Alisio
DurationUp to 2 hours
Equipment requiredExamination couch (if planning to demonstrate joint examination)
  • Basics (10 mins)
  • Main session: (2 x 15 minute) case discussions covering the key points and evidence
  • Advanced session: (2 x 20 minutes) case discussions covering grey areas, diagnostic dilemmas; advanced management and escalation
  • Sim scenario (30-60 mins)
  • Quiz (10 mins)
  • Infographic sharing (5 mins): 5 take home learning points

We also recommend printing/sharing a copy of your local guideline.

Basic joint anatomy with diagrams of lower limb joints: CHW Anatomy Review

DFTB: Fever and Limp

DFTB: The child with a Limp

Short, basic introduction to the limping child and common differentials:

NHS – Limp in Children

PEM Playbook Podcast on the limping child

A 10 year old boy is brought to ED by his dad who is concerned that his son is limping and has left knee pain. He has complained of pain a few times before – especially after sports (which he dislikes) but seems to be in much more discomfort since coming home from school yesterday.

What are the differential diagnoses in this case?

How would you refine your diagnosis further?

  • The differential is broad at this stage – it includes benign self-limiting conditions such as a minor traumatic soft tissue injury through to more serious conditions such as Perthes disease and Slipped Capital Femoral Epiphysis (SCFE).
  • A detailed history should be elicited to rule out the presence of any red flag symptoms that might suggest systemic illness
    • Night pain
    • Weight loss
    • Night sweats
    • Anorexia/general malaise
  • The child requires a thorough examination including abdomen, groin and the whole of the lower limb to establish the location of the pathology – remember that hip pain can be referred to the knee.
  • X-rays including a pelvis and frog-leg lateral are essential to look for evidence of hip joint integrity.

A thorough history establishes that the child is systemically well but overweight. He has restricted movement in his left hip. You notice that he externally rotates his hip when you try to flex it. This is his x-ray:

  • The x-ray findings suggest a slipped capital femoral epiphysis on the left hand side.
  • It is a Type I Salter Harris injury affecting the growth plate of the upper femur.
  • Triggers include growth spurt (i.e. puberty), obesity and trauma.
  • Initial management involves referral to an orthopaedic specialist
    • Must be kept non-weight bearing
    • Likely to need surgery involve pinning of epiphysis
    • Will need ongoing monitoring due to risk of long term problems e.g.
      • Osteoarthritis
      • Avascular necrosis of the femoral head
      • Slipping of the contralateral side (~20% of cases)

A four year old boy is brought to ED as he is unable to weight-bear. He woke up with a slight limp this morning which has got steadily worse throughout the day and he is now unable to walk at all. He has no recent medical history of note.

Examination is unremarkable other than a moderately restricted range of movement in his right hip. Despite the fact he is systemically well and has had good doses of analgesia he remains unable to weight-bear.

What investigations (if any) would be appropriate at this stage and why?

What is the most likely diagnosis? Can this child go home today? If so, what information would you give to parents and what follow up (if any) would you arrange?

  • X-ray – mandatory to look for evidence of e.g. Perthes
  • Bloods – could be considered as he is still not weight-bearing after analgesia.  
    • He is afebrile and systemically well so will likely be normal
    • May be useful for looking for rare causes of limp e.g. initial presentation of leukaemia
  • US – depending on availability may be useful to look for a joint effusion. In transient synovitis expect to see a simple joint effusion +/- evidence of thickened and inflamed synovium.

X-ray and baseline bloods including inflammatory markers are normal.

  • Most likely to be a transient synovitis
    • Although transient synovitis is more common after a viral illness, it does still occur in children who have been otherwise well recently.
  • As long as you are reasonably confident that this child has transient synovitis it may be possible to discharge him with careful safety-netting advice.
  • If his pain gets worse or he develops a fever his parents should bring him back to ED promptly for further assessment.
  • Some form of review is almost certainly going to be advisable as he is not weight bearing. Depending on local hospital protocol this may be an ED clinic or a paediatric rapid access clinic.

You see a 3 year old child with a two day history of fever. He has woken up with a right sided limp. On examination he is febrile with large, pus covered tonsils, cervical lymphadenopathy and discomfort in the right hip – especially on internal/external rotation. You decide to do bloods and the inflammatory markers come back as raised.

What is the role of tonsillitis in this presentation?

How might you distinguish between a transient synovitis and a septic arthritis in this case?

  • Tonsillitis gives a source for the fever and the raised infection markers
  • It can also act as a source for haematogenous spread of osteomyelitis/septic arthritis
  • Staph aureus is one of the most common causes of both tonsillitis and septic arthritis/osteomyelitis

  • Children with septic arthritis are likely to be in more pain and have a more limited range of movement and are unlikely to weight -bear.
  • They may be systemically unwell.
  • Kocher’s criteria may help clarify your level of suspicion
    • A point is given for each of the four following criteria:
  • Non-weight-bearing on affected side
  • Erythrocyte sedimentation rate >40
  • Fever > 38.5°C
  • White blood cell count >12,000
ScoreLikelihood of septic arthritis
13%
240%
393%
499%
  • Ultrasound of the hip joint may reveal a complicated effusion.
  • The only certain way to know the difference is joint aspiration

A 1 year old girl with a background of sickle cell anaemia attends ED with a history of fevers up to 39°C and diarrhoea for the last two days. Two other family members also have diarrhoea. This morning she is distressed and seems to be in a lot of pain. She is not weight bearing and the family are concerned this could be her first painful crisis.

What are the concerning features in this child – what makes her a high risk patient and why?

What are your next steps in managing this child?

  • Children with sickle cell disease are functionally asplenic due to recurrent micro-infarcts of their spleens.
  • This leaves them at high risk of infection from encapsulated bacteria such as pneumococcus and salmonella.
  • Diarrhoea could leave her dehydrated and provoke a painful crisis – as the family fear.
  • A history of fever and diarrhoea however, must make the clinician suspicious of salmonella infection with the risk of haematogenous spread.
  • She is high risk for systemic bacterial infection so, given her presentation, needs assessing for features of sepsis and shock
  • Meticulous examination of her musculoskeletal system to find a focus for the pain.
  • Initial management is likely to involve fluids, antibiotics and analgesia.

Examination reveals a painful, hot left ankle with some mild swelling. The child screams in pain when you attempt to move it.  

  • Paediatricians
  • Haematologists
  • Radiologists
  • Microbiologists
  • Orthopaedic surgeons
  • Anaesthetists
  • (Critical Care – depending on how unwell she is)

A 10 year old young man, James, with profound learning difficulties presents to the Emergency Department with reduced mobility, a poor appetite and altered behaviour. His mum says he hasn’t fallen or hurt himself recently, but she thinks he is in pain and claims that “my son is not himself”. He is afebrile and systemically well. You notice that James has an abnormal gait as he walks in from the waiting room. You offer him analgesia.

What further information would you like to elicit from the history?

What is a pGALS screen? Practice a pGALS examination with your colleague.

You suspect a hip problem but you are still unsure. What are you going to do next?

Your clinical suspicion and sense of pre-test probability tailors your examination to involve a musculoskeletal and joint exam. With mum’s help, distraction techniques and imaginative play James manages through an incomplete pGALS examination. He doesn’t allow you to complete a comprehensive general examination and mum tells you the last time James had a blood test, the doctor almost got a needle-stick injury.

Despite attempts at a thorough history and examination, you are still unsure what the underlying cause for Jame’s pain is. You cannot safety net and discharge him home without further investigations even though you know taking bloods and performing X-rays will be challenging.

You do bloods and an X-ray which again have been a challenging exercise.

Blood results:
Hb   9.8, WCC  15.6, Plt    299, Na  131, K  haemolysed, Urea  2.4. Creat   15
ESR insufficient
LDH haemolysed

James has presented with atraumatic joint pain.

There is a wide-range of aetiologies but most are benign and self limiting. However nestled among these varied presentations are limb and life-threatening infections and non-accidental injuries. Getting a detailed history from an older child with learning difficulties is going to be challenging, as is getting a history from a preverbal child. One should always approach a scenario with a detailed history; and in this case the main aim would be to tease out red flags with the assistance of the parent/caregiver followed by an examination.

History

A systematic structure to history taking is the SOCRATES pneumonic for a pain focused history.

S: Site. Ask the child where it hurts. Children are more likely than adults to experience referred pain. Remember: knee pain emanates from the hip (in 35% of cases). Also pain from the spine can refer to the lateral thigh.

James rubs his right hip region when you ask him where it hurts.

O: Onset. Is the pain acute or chronic? Acute onset tends to be more concerning and suggests joint/bone infection, trauma, or with acute deterioration of a chronic problem. Chronic pain is more suggestive of an inflammatory process, overuse syndromes or an osseous cause such as SUFE or Legg-Calve-Perthes disease. Malignancy often has a delayed presentation with mild dull pain that may not be activity limiting in the initial stages. Nocturnal pain is a red flag and should always be asked about.

James is unable to answer your questions. Mum thinks James has been unwell since Monday (3 days ago), and says he doesn’t have problems sleeping.

C: Character. Dull ache (deep tissue pathology) or sharp sting (cutaneous involvement) can be helpful.

James is unable to answer both questions to character and radiation.

R: Radiation. Can be difficult to elicit exact origin of pain and radiation, especially in the younger child. Be aware of bilateral limb involvement as this may suggest a more central cause, such as cauda equina.

A: Associations.

Weight-bearing: non-weightbearing can suggest more serious pathology

Mono or polyarticular: polyarticular is generally less concerning and suggests an underlying systemic disease process. However, 8% of septic arthritis cases involve more than one joint and leukaemic infiltrates typically affect multiple joints.

Systemic illness: chronic features such as malaise, fatigue, weight loss could suggest underlying increase in catabolism from a systemic disease such as SLE, JIA, or anaemia from malignancy.

Dermatology: extra-articular features of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) (eye pain, pyoderma gangrenosum, erythema nodosum, aphthous ulcers). Ask the parents about any new marks on the body and later during the examination look for a Salmon patch of juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA). Consider whether this presentation is associated with a recent upper respiratory infection or viral gastroenteritis which may be suggestive of reactive arthritis.

Mum says James is off his food but he hasn’t lost weight.

T: Time course. Note the pain progression over time and response to analgesics.

Mum says James is more comfortable after Ibuprofen which she started giving him 2 days ago.

E: Exacerbating or Relieving factors. Trauma and infection aggravate pain after activity and are relieved by rest. The presence of pain that is relieved by activity is more suggestive of an underlying inflammatory cause. Pain relieved with rest is pain from osteochondrosis in the adolescent experiencing growth spurts.

S: Severity. Severity is subjective but a surrogate of severity is the inability to walk or to tolerate examination with distraction.

Finish off the SOCRATES pain history with a FAST history:

F: Family history for autoimmune disease (IBD, psoriatic arthritis)

A: Adolescent screen. The sexually active teenager could present with joint infection due to gonococcus or joint inflammation due to chlamydia. Similarly ask about IV drug use as this increases the chance for infectious arthritis.

S: Safeguarding. Due attention should be maintained for a history that is not in keeping with the presentation or the child’s developmental age.

T: Travel history

Examination

Look. Inspection is non-invasive, interactive and can be used to establish rapport.

Feel for temperature changes, tender areas, effusions.

Move actively and passively with the aim of gently stressing the ligaments of which the joint is comprised.

It is always important to complete a comprehensive general examination especially in the presence of red flags or suspicion of a multisystem disease.

pGALS is a standardised musculoskeletal (MSK) basic examination. Free educational resources to demonstrate pGALS are available online. (www.pmmonline.org).

pGALS screen has the benefit of quickly assessing all joints, this is important given the sometimes vague presentation of MSK problems and the difficulty of localising the site of joint pathology from the history alone. Frequent practice of pGALS, especially on healthy children, is important to appreciate normal ranges of movement as joint ‘restriction’ – a common finding in JIA can be easily missed especially with symmetrical joint disease.

The x-ray is diagnostic and demonstrates a large pelvic Ewing’s sarcoma.

The blood tests (which were very difficult to obtain from James) reveal an anaemia and leukocytosis. A marginally elevated ESR and LDH may also be evident in Ewing’s sarcoma.

Ewing’s sarcoma typically presents with more systemic disease at presentation and localised pain. At diagnosis, the median duration of symptoms is 3-9months.

Any child or adolescent who’s pain involves any of these characteristics should be investigated to exclude a malignant pathology with at least a plain film X-ray.

–        A painful ‘injury’ which fails to resolve over a reasonable time (over 1 month)

–        Intermittent or persistent localised pain for one month with no history of trauma

–        Night pain that wakes you up from sleep or prevents adequate sleep

–        Fracture where history of force resulting in injury seems insufficient

Ewing’s sarcoma occur more commonly in the pelvic bones, diaphysis of the long bones of the leg, and bones of the chest wall.

At presentation 25% will have metastatic disease to the lung, bone or bone marrow or a combination of these.

Plain X-ray in 2 planes of the painful area remains the first line investigation of choice and is readily available to most clinicians. Ewing’s (as well as an osteosarcoma) can lead to a radiologically significant sign – the Codman triangle. It is a triangular area of new subperiosteal bone that is created when a lesion, often a tumor, raises the periosteum away from the bone. Ewing’s sarcoma traditionally demonstrates osteolysis, detachment of the periosteum and occasional calcification in any associated soft tissue mass.

There are no peripheral blood tests or tumor markers which are diagnostic of bone tumors.

Further imaging of the affected bone is required to adequately determine the true extent of the disease and staging.

Biopsy is the gold standard for histological diagnosis.

Whole body technetium-99m bone scans and CT chest are performed to assess metastatic disease at presentation.

Bone marrow aspirates and trephines are required for Ewing’s sarcoma patients as marrow involvement is a part of the disease process and for some high dose procedures requiring harvest of stem cells from the patient may be part of the treatment.

Referrals to a specialist orthopaedic sarcoma surgeon, paediatric oncologist, radiology services, paediatric surgeon, rehabilitative specialists and physiotherapists to name a few are required.

Important to note that although malignancy is rare, it should be actively excluded. Also, blood tests may be normal even in cases of inflammatory, infectious and neoplastic joint pain and peripheral blood films may not show blast cells in children with leukaemia cells.

Which of the following is NOT part of Kocher’s criteria for assessing the risk of septic arthritis in a limping child?

A: ESR >40

B: Range of movement <50% normal

C: WCC > 12×109

D: Fever >38.5oC

E: Inability to weight bear

The correct answer is B.

Although range of movement can be a useful part of the assessment, it is not part of the official Kocher criteria.

Which of these statements about SCFE/SUFE is TRUE?

A: It is most common in underweight children between the ages of 6-10. It can be a cause of chronic hip pain and is bilateral in approximately 10% of cases.

B: It is a cause of both acute and chronic hip pain, is rarely bilateral and typically occurs in overweight adolescents.

C: It is caused by avascular necrosis of the femoral epiphysis and usually presents as a chronic problem. Radiological detection is improved by requesting a ‘frog-leg lateral’ view.

D: It is most common in children over the age of 10 and can present with acute or chronic pain. It is bilateral in around 20% of cases and radiological detection is improved by a ‘frog-leg lateral’ view.

E: It is a common cause of limp and pain in underweight adolescents and is bilateral in one third of cases. Early detection and referral improves prognosis.

SCFE is most common in boys between the ages of 10-17 with a median age of 13. It is the most common cause of serious hip pathology in adolescents. 50% of them are >95th centile for weight and knee pain is a common initial presentation. Pain and limp may be entirely acute but often presents with an acute on chronic picture with long term low level pain suddenly becoming more acute with a large epiphyseal slip

In a classical antalgic gait, which phase of walking is affected?

A: Strike

B: Contact

C: Stance

D: Propulsion

E: Swing

The correct answer is C.

The stance phase is shortened in an antalgic gait as the patient tries to minimise the amount of time that weight is placed through the painful leg. (https://pemplaybook.org/podcast/please-just-stop-limping/ for diagram of phases of gait and fuller explanation)

Which of the following bacteria is the most likely to cause septic arthritis?

A: E. Coli

B: Streptococcus pneumoniae

C: Haemophilus Influenza B

D: Staphylococcus aureus

E: Salmonella

The correct answer is D.

Although all of the organisms above can cause joint pathology, the most common is Staph aureus. Previous studies suggest it is responsible for over half of all cases of septic arthritis.

Which of the following statements about Perthes disease is FALSE?

A: It is more common in boys than girls

B: It is bilateral in 10% of cases

C: It is defined by avascular necrosis of the femoral head

D: An older age at diagnosis is associated with a more favourable prognosis

E: Physiotherapy, casting and surgery may all form part of the treatment regimen

The correct answer is D.

Perthes disease is five times more common in boys than girls although damage is often more severe in affected girls. It may be bilateral in around 10% of cases and is defined by avascular necrosis of the femoral head. The younger a child is diagnosed the more favourable the prognosis owing to a greater potential for bone remodelling. Children under the age of 6 do especially well. Management is multidisciplinary and physio, casting and surgery may contribute at various stages of the disease process.

A 10 year old presents with an acute onset of right hip and wrist pain following a very minor trip and fall onto the ground. Since the incident she has been unable to bear weight. On examination the right hip and wrist showed no obvious deformity and range of movement were normal after her pain was addressed. During the last 2 years she had not presented to the GP but recently she had complained of poor sleep, leading to daytime somnolence, palpitations, anxiety and sweating. A fall in her weight growth curve was noted after plotting her on a growth chart.

Which statements are FALSE?

A: This is a ‘red herring’ injury commonly reported by patients and their parents and will not require further investigations.

B: For children over the age of 8 years or limping > 7 days an X-ray is an adequate imaging modality as it has a relatively low dose of radiation but is also very likely to show the pathology causing the pain.

C: Blood tests are indicated including thyroid functions because the minor fall is not in proportion to the severity of her symptoms and her unexplained weight loss is of concern

D: Transient synovitis is most common in this age group so cooling, rest and pain relief are adequate therapy.

The correct answers are A and D.

The most common cause for hip pain (in children aged 3-10years) is transient synovitis. Even though this is a benign cause not requiring further treatment, other more severe differential diagnoses need to be considered. A ‘red herring’ injury is commonly reported by patients and their parents but in this case the minor fall was not in proportion to the severity of her symptoms. Similarly, X-ray and blood tests including thyroid functions are indicated due to the red flags of not weight bearing, disproportionate severity of her pain and unexplained weight loss. The indications for a CT scan are limited in this context. In this case, she had a  pathological fracture due to endocrine abnormalities. Hyperthyroidism is rare but a severe disease in children and mostly autoimmune.



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