The use of ultrasound to detect occult or unsuspected fractures in child abuse

Fred H. Warkentine, Russ Horowitz, Mary Clyde Pierce*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)43-46
Number of pages4
JournalPediatric emergency care
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2014


  • child abuse
  • fracture
  • inflicted trauma
  • occult
  • osseous
  • skeletal
  • sonography
  • ultrasound

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Emergency Medicine


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