Overview on Growth or Epiphyseal Plates

The growth plate, or also known as epiphyseal plate or physis, is the area of growing tissue near the ends of our long bones. There are at least two growth plates on each end of the bones – for instance in the shoulder, elbows, wrists, vertebrae, pelvis, thighs, ankles, heels, fingers and toes.  The growth plates consist of cartilage, which is a rubbery, flexible material. The nose, for example, is made of cartilage. As the cartilages are the weakest element of a child’s skeleton, they are vulnerable to injuries, or so-called fractures. Fractures gradually occur as a result of repetitive stress on the bone, which can happen especially to kids that are regularly doing sports.

When Do We Stop Growing Taller?

As soon as adolescents stop growing, the epiphyseal plates harden into solid bones. This phenomenon occurs usually by the end of puberty, although the exact time is different for each individual. In general, the growth plates of boys close at the age of 15 to 17, whereas girls experience the closure of their growth plates already around the age of 13 to 15. The reason for this difference is that a girl’s puberty typically starts about 2 years earlier than a boy’s. In elementary school, for example, girls are often taller and more mature than boys because of being earlier in puberty.

How to Check the Development of the Height Growth Process?

In a safe and painless procedure, doctors can check the maturity of a child’s skeletal system by performing an X-ray examination of the left wrist, hand, and fingers. The results are compared with a register of X-ray images, that are based on a large number of other kids of the same gender and age. The growth plates are easily detectable on the X-ray images as they are softer and contain less material, making them appear different on the images than the rest of the bones. Based on the appearance and thickness of the epiphyseal bones on the X-ray images, the doctor can asses the development of a child’s growth process. The test is usually ordered by pediatricians to help diagnose conditions that delay or accelerate physical growth and development.

Once the growth process of adolescents is completed, the growth plates have closed and are replaced by solid bones. At this stage no further longitudinal bone growth is possible. Solely, the compression of the discs in the spine can lead to small height increases during adulthood. Therefore children and adolescents need to make sure to give their bodies sufficient nutrients, exercise and sleep before their growth plates close.

Here we have some Frequently Asked Questions concerning Growth Plates:

  • Can I check the status of my growth plate development in a self-test?

There are many unreliable sources for doing self-diagnosis of the growth plates on the Internet. The best method to accurately check your current status is to ask your doctor to perform an X-ray examination.

  • How can a growth plate fracture occur?

Most growth plate fractures occur because of stress on the bones, often caused by doing sports such as basketball, football soccer, skiing, skateboarding or by traffic accidents. Interestingly, boys suffer almost twice as many fractures than girls because girls grow faster and their bones harden quicker.

  • Can I grow tall when my growth plate is fractured?

Most growth plate fractures heal quickly without any complications. In few cases in which the growth plate is crushed or badly fractured, it may close and harden early.

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