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Keywords:

  • children;
  • cortex;
  • fractures;
  • metaphysis;
  • radius

Abstract

Fractures of the distal radial metaphysis are very common in otherwise healthy children. The reasons for this high fracture incidence are not entirely clear. To address this problem, we undertook a detailed analysis of distal radius development using peripheral quantitative computed tomography (pQCT) at a site 4% proximal to the radial articular surface. The study population comprised 337 healthy children and adolescents (aged 6-18 years; 171 girls) and 107 adults (aged 29-40 years; 88 women). Total volumetric bone mineral density (vBMD) remained stable at about 70% of the adult value between the ages of 6-7 years and 14-15 years in both genders. Cortical thickness increased little between 6-7 years and 12-13 years in girls and 14-15 years in boys. Strength-Strain Index (SSI; a parameter combining geometry and density) was still at only 20% of the adult value in girls aged 10-11 years and at 21% of the adult level in boys aged 12-13 years. At these ages, factors that contribute to the mechanical challenge to the distal radius in case of a fall (forearm length and body weight) had already reached 49% and 36% of the adult value in girls and boys, respectively. The shaping of the distal radius cortex (metaphyseal inwaisting) was assessed by analyzing the decrease in cross-sectional bone size between adjacent bone slices in a separate population of 44 children (aged 8-19 years; 26 girls). The rates of periosteal resorption and endocortical apposition were estimated to average 8 μm/day and 10 μm/day, respectively, during the growth period. In conclusion, during growth the increase in distal radius strength lags behind the increase in mechanical challenges caused by a fall, because metaphyseal cortical thickness does not increase sufficiently. The endocortical apposition rate is already very high at that site and apparently cannot be further increased to levels that would be necessary to keep bone strength adapted to the mechanical requirements.