Institutional members access full text with Ovid®

Share this article on:

The Use of Ultrasound to Detect Occult or Unsuspected Fractures in Child Abuse

Warkentine, Fred H. MD, MsCI*; Horowitz, Russ MD, RDMS; Pierce, Mary Clyde MD

doi: 10.1097/PEC.0000000000000064
Illustrative Cases

Occult fractures due to child abuse can be difficult to identify because there is usually no history of trauma, and chief complaints are vague. In addition, the osseous injuries are often subtle, becoming obvious only after healing begins. Missed injuries can lead to inappropriate disposition of a patient and can cause children to be placed at high risk for further injury and death. It is therefore imperative that these children be diagnosed as soon as possible. Ultrasound has some properties that are desirable for detecting fractures, especially in children. Ultrasound waves are almost completely reflected by cortical bone. Thus, fractures easily appear on an ultrasound screen. The cartilaginous nature of pediatric bones makes some fractures difficult to identify on x-ray. The nature of ultrasound waves, however, allows the cartilaginous areas of pediatric bones to be identified. This brief report presents 2 cases of children younger than 1 year presenting with vague complaints (limp, irritability) without a history of trauma. Both children underwent bedside ultrasound by a pediatric emergency medicine physician with training in emergency ultrasound. The bedside ultrasound led to the identification of occult or unsuspected fractures in both children, and state social services were notified. In both cases, the cause of the fracture was determined to be from abuse, and necessary measures were taken to ensure the child’s future safety. This report demonstrates that ultrasound may be useful for early identification of some types of occult or unsuspected fractures commonly seen in cases of child abuse.

From the *Division of Pediatric Emergency Medicine, Department of Pediatrics, University of Louisville School of Medicine, Louisville, KY; and †Division of Pediatric Emergency Medicine, Department of Pediatrics, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago, IL.

Disclosure: The authors declare no conflict of interest.

Reprints: Mary Clyde Pierce, MD, 225 E Chicago Ave, Chicago IL 60614 (e-mail:

© 2014 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.