An avulsion fracture occurs when part of an apophysis is ripped off by the ligament due to a sudden forceful eccentric or concentric contraction of the muscle attached to it.
Apophyses exist on many bones and are the insertion site of a number of ligaments. Avulsion fractures can occur at any of these sites.
- Tibial tuberosity: attachment of patellar ligament on proximal tibia
- Anterior superior iliac spine (ASIS): attachment of sartorius muscle; seen most commonly in adolescent sprinters
- Anterior inferior iliac spine (AIIS): attachment of rectus femoris muscle
- Distal pole of patella: patella sleeve fracture; rare injury characterized by separation of cartilage sleeve from ossified patella; may require surgery
- Ischial tuberosity apophysis: hamstring insertion avulsion seen in adolescent sprinters; frequently misdiagnosed as acute hamstring tendon or muscle injury
- Iliac crest: insertion of oblique muscles
- Medial epicondyle of humerus: insertion of many muscles including the flexors of the forearm; variant of “little league elbow”
- Olecranon: insertion of tricep tendon
Clinical Presentation and Diagnosis
Acute apophyseal injuries are generally non-contact related, but rather due to a sudden explosive eccentric muscle contraction.
History and physical exam
Patients present with:
- Severe pain
- Point tenderness
- Sometimes, history of a “popping noise or feeling” precedes injury
Exam can reveal:
- Deformity of interested area
- Decreased range of motion
- Difficulty weight-bearing
- Abnormally high patella in cases of tibial tubercle avulsion fracture
- Acute injury leads to swelling, which limits examination; re-examination after 10–14 days may be necessary.
- Plain X-rays:
- Soft tissue swelling and joint effusion are non-specific findings often seen.
- Avulsed bone fragments may be visible in acute injuries.
- Subacute injuries may reveal areas of sclerosis.
- Calcifications due to previous trauma may be visible.
- Computed tomography (CT) scan:
- May be used to assess size of fragment and amount of displacement
- Can assist in perioperative planning
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan: may be used to assess associated soft tissue injury
Management of most acute avulsion injuries is non-surgical and based on the location and amount of displacement of the avulsed bone.
- Non-displaced or minimally displaced apophyseal avulsion fractures:
- Protected motion, including partial weight-bearing
- Appropriately staged physical therapy
- For displaced fractures: Amount of displacement, size of fragment, and demands of athlete are important factors in surgical decision.
Additional important pediatric skeletal injuries:
- Greenstick fracture: partial-thickness fracture involving a complete break of cortex and periosteum on only 1 side of the bone. Termed “greenstick” as it resembles a break in a live, “green” twig, where 1 side of the stick remains intact. High risk for refracture and should be completely immobilized. Rarely requires reduction, but should be managed cautiously to prevent malunion or angulation deformities, and often should be referred for orthopedic follow-up.
- Supracondylar fracture: complete fracture affecting distal humerus after falling on outstretched hand (FOOSH). Commonly fractures of the elbow in children. Requires immediate orthopedic consultation as many cases are associated with neurovascular injury and require surgical intervention.
- Buckle or Torus fracture: fracture affecting growing metaphyseal bone secondary to compression load, where bone buckles or compresses. Generally considered a stable fracture. Treated by immobilization, and has a good prognosis.
- Calderazzi F, Nosenzo A, Galavotti C, Menozzi M, Pogliacomi F, Ceccarelli F. (2018). Apophyseal avulsion fractures of the pelvis. A review. Acta Biomed. 2018;89(4):470-476. doi:10.23750/abm.v89i4.7632
- Porr J, Lucaciu C, Birkett S. (2011). Avulsion fractures of the pelvis – a qualitative systematic review of the literature. J Can Chiropr Assoc. PMID: 22131561; PMCID: PMC3222700.
- George MS. (2007). Fractures of the greater tuberosity of the humerus. J Am Acad Orthop Surg. doi: 10.5435/00124635-200710000-00005. PMID: 17916784.
- Schiller J, DeFroda S, Blood T. (2017). Lower Extremity Avulsion Fractures in the Pediatric and Adolescent Athlete. J Am Acad Orthop Surg. doi: 10.5435/JAAOS-D-15-00328. PMID: 28291142.