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Tibial fractures in very young children and child abuse

Three Part Question

In [very young children who present with tibial fractures] what are [the relative chances] of [accidental and non-accidental injury]?

Clinical Scenario

An 18 month old child attends the department with a limp. You question the mother of the child who explains that the child has fallen down three stairs at home. X-ray reveals a transverse tibial fracture. Further inquiry is unrewarding, and you wonder whether the prescence of the fracture alone is sufficient to support a diagnosis of non-accidental injury.

Search Strategy

EMBASE <1980 to 2006 Week 12
Ovid MEDLINE(R) <1966 to March Week 3 2006
The Cochrane Library 2006, Issue 1
Embase/Medline:(exp battered child syndrome OR battered child OR child abuse OR non-accidental OR non-accidental AND (exp tibial fractures OR transverse tibial fracture$.mp OR spiral tibial fracture$.mp) LIMIT to human AND English.
Cochrane:[Child abuse [MeSH] ] AND [tibial fractures [MeSH]] – 0 results

Search Outcome

44 papers were found of which 3 were of some relevance to the question

Relevant Paper(s)

Author, date and country Patient group Study type (level of evidence) Outcomes Key results Study Weaknesses
Mellick LB and Reesor K,
10 children aged less than 4 years with isolated spiral tibial fracturesCase seriesNumber of non accidental injuries1 (10%)Small series subject to inclusion bias
Banaszkiewicz PA et al,
5 children aged less than I year with tibial fracturesRetrospective surveyDefinite abuse1 (20%)Very small number of tibial fractures in the study Retrospective assessment of abuse risk
Likely abuse1 (20%)
Suspicious of abuse1 (20%)
Coffey C et al,
26 children aged 18 months or less with tibial fracturesRetrospective surveyAbuse25 (96%)Small number of cases from a large survey


The numbers of children with the target condition (tibial fracture) in the case series is small. However in the cases found there seems to be a clear link between tibial fractures in very young children (aged 18 months or less) and non-accidental injury.

Clinical Bottom Line

Very young children with tibial fractures should be closely assessed for non-accidental injury


  1. Mellick LB. Reesor K. Spiral tibial fractures of children: a commonly accidental spiral long bone fracture. American Journal of Emergency Medicine. 8(3):234-7, 1990 May.
  2. Banaszkiewicz PA. Scotland TR. Myerscough EJ. Fractures in children younger than age 1 year: Importance of collaboration with child protection services. Journal of Pediatric Orthopedics. Vol. 22(6)(pp 740-744), 2002
  3. Coffey C. Haley K. Hayes J. Groner JI. The risk of child abuse in infants and toddlers with lower extremity injuries. Journal of Pediatric Surgery. Vol. 40(1)(pp 120-123), 2005.