Recognizing a Greenstick Fracture

Medically reviewed by William Morrison, MD on June 27, 2017Written by Mariah Adcox on June 27, 2017

What is a greenstick fracture?

A greenstick fracture occurs when a bone bends and breaks, but doesn’t break into two separate pieces. It’s called by this name because it looks similar to what happens when you try to break a “green” branch from a tree. It also goes by the term “partial fracture.”

Because greenstick fractures happen in young, soft bones, they typically occur in children under 10 years old.

greenstick fracture

What are the symptoms of a greenstick fracture?

The symptoms of a greenstick fracture vary depending on the severity of the fracture. You may only develop a bruise or general tenderness in more mild fractures.

In other cases, there might be an obvious bend in the limb or fractured area, accompanied by swelling and pain.

Symptoms also depend on the location of the injury. For example, if the injury occurs in your finger, you might not be able to move the finger for a period of time. Alternatively, a fracture in your arm might be painful with swelling and tenderness while you maintain mobility.

What causes a greenstick fracture?

The most common cause of a greenstick fracture is a fall. Most children develop greenstick fractures in their arms, because they try to catch themselves as they fall.

How is a greenstick fracture diagnosed?

If you’re experiencing any of the following, see a doctor:

  • You have pain in a limb that doesn’t go away after a day or two.
  • There’s an obvious bend in your limb.
  • You’re unable to put weight on your leg.

At your appointment, your doctor will perform a physical exam and look for tenderness, swelling, deformity, or numbness. To check for the nerve damage that can sometimes accompany bone injuries, your doctor may ask you to wiggle your fingers or perform other similar tests. Additionally, they may check the joints above and below the injured area. To be certain you’ve got a greenstick fracture, they may recommend an X-ray be performed.

How are greenstick fractures treated?

If there’s an obvious bend in the affected limb, your doctor may need to manually straighten it. For this procedure, you may be given pain medication or sedatives, or occasionally general anesthesia, as the procedure can be quite painful.

Most greenstick fractures are treated with a cast. This helps not only to keep the bones in place as they heal, but also to prevent further breakage of the already damaged bone. Because greenstick fractures aren’t a full break, your doctor may decide that a removable splint will be sufficient for healing the limb. This can be more convenient, as you can remove the splint for bathing.

What is the outlook for a greenstick fracture?

It normally takes between four to eight weeks to completely heal a greenstick fracture. Your doctor may order X-rays at your follow-up visit to ensure your injury is healing properly.

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