SplintER Series: What is Wrong With My Daughter?


A 16 year-old competitive gymnast presents to the emergency department with left ankle pain for several weeks and missed periods. The mother provides consent to treat the patient and informs you she is concerned that with the patient’s missed periods, she may be pregnant. You obtain x-rays of her ankle (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Case courtesy of Dr Hani Makky ALSALAM, Radiopaedia.org, rID: 8720


Stress fracture at the distal tibial metaphysis – note the faint sclerotic line at the tibial metaphysis (Figure 2).

Figure 2. Arrows identifying the stress fracture. Case courtesy of Dr. Hani Makky Al Salam, Radiopaedia.org, rID: 8720

When coupled with the amenorrhea, consider the female athlete triad.

  • PEARL: The female athlete triad is a syndrome consisting of disordered eating, amenorrhea, and low bone mineral density (eg. osteoporosis) – Patients will have a degree of dysfunction from all 3 of the components. This is a fairly common disorder in young female athletes but the actual prevalence is hard to estimate because of the complexity of the three components [1]. Studies have shown a range from 0-16% when encompassing all three but can be as high as 4-18% when using two concurrent components and even 16-54% when only looking for one [2,3].

  • PEARL: Stress fractures in competitive athletes is usually multifactorial – increased activity, poor nutrition, and possible hormone imbalance [4,5].

Plain film ankle views should be obtained. If a stress fracture is acute, sensitivity on plain films can be as low as 10% [6]. MRI can be performed outpatient with a sensitivity approaching 100% [4,5,7,8]. A pregnancy test should be performed as well given the amenorrhea. A standard workup for amenorrhea should be performed as an outpatient. Inquire about eating habits and anxiety/depression.

  • PEARL: Athletes, regardless of competition level and gender, may be pushed into decreasing caloric intake for the sake of performance, appearance, or making weight. This can have serious physical and mental implications.

The three components of the female triad are on a spectrum of severity in the disruption of bone mineral density/osteoporosis, menstrual dysfunction/dysmenorrhea, and low energy with or without an eating disorder [1,9-11]. Patients will have a degree of dysfunction of all three components.

  • PEARL: Risk factors for developing the female athlete triad are participation in sports that emphasize leanness or a specific weight, appearance, or are beneficial if less gravitational forces. These may include gymnastics, ice skating, wrestling, boxing, dance, and track [10,12].

Stress fracture treatment included rest and analgesics. Immobilization is not necessary, but refraining from activity which exacerbates pain is crucial. NSAIDs may be used for pain control [5,7]. Female athlete triad is multifactorial and outpatient follow up should be ensured. Referral to adolescent medicine, sports medicine, or close primary care follow up is important.

  • PEARL: The patient will need education on good eating habits and nutrition, decrease in activity, and counseling [1,10,12]. The best way to treat the female athlete triad is to prevent it.

Check out ALiEM’s SplintER Series to brush up on other can’t miss diagnoses of ankle pain.


  1.  Weiss Kelly AK, Hecht S; COUNCIL ON SPORTS MEDICINE AND FITNESS. The Female Athlete Triad. Pediatrics. 2016;138(2):e20160922. PMID: 27432852.
  2. Nichols JF, Rauh MJ, Lawson MJ, Ji M, Barkai HS. Prevalence of the female athlete triad syndrome among high school athletes. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2006;160(2):137-142. doi:10.1001/archpedi.160.2.137. PMID: 16461868.
  3. Hoch AZ, Pajewski NM, Moraski L, et al. Prevalence of the female athlete triad in high school athletes and sedentary students. Clin J Sport Med. 2009;19(5):421-428. doi:10.1097/JSM.0b013e3181b8c136. PMID: 19741317.
  4. Matcuk GR Jr, Mahanty SR, Skalski MR, Patel DB, White EA, Gottsegen CJ. Stress fractures: pathophysiology, clinical presentation, imaging features, and treatment options. Emerg Radiol. 2016;23(4):365-375. PMID: 27002328.
  5. Saunier J, Chapurlat R. Stress fracture in athletes. Joint Bone Spine. 2018;85(3):307-310. PMID: 28512006.
  6. Matheson GO, Clement DB, McKenzie DC, Taunton JE, Lloyd-Smith DR, MacIntyre JG. Stress fractures in athletes. A study of 320 cases. Am J Sports Med. 1987;15(1):46-58. doi:10.1177/036354658701500107. PMID: 3812860.
  7. Denay KL. Stress Fractures. Curr Sports Med Rep. 2017;16(1):7-8. PMID: 28067732.
  8. McInnis KC, Ramey LN. High-Risk Stress Fractures: Diagnosis and Management. PM R. 2016;8(3 Suppl):S113-S124. PMID: 26972260.
  9. Otis CL, Drinkwater B, Johnson M, Loucks A, Wilmore J. American College of Sports Medicine position stand. The Female Athlete Triad. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1997;29(5):i-ix. PMID: 9140913.
  10. Nattiv A, Loucks AB, Manore MM, et al. American College of Sports Medicine position stand. The female athlete triad. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2007;39(10):1867-1882. PMID: 17909417.
  11. Sundgot-Borgen J. Risk and trigger factors for the development of eating disorders in female elite athletes. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1994;26(4):414-419.PMID: 8201895.
  12. Scofield KL, Hecht S. Bone health in endurance athletes: runners, cyclists, and swimmers. Curr Sports Med Rep. 2012;11(6):328-334. PMID: 23147022.

EMRad: Can’t Miss Pediatric Elbow Injuries


Have you ever been working a shift at 3 am and wondered, “Am I missing something? I’ll just splint and instruct the patient to follow up with their PCP in 1 week.” This can be a reasonable approach, especially if you’re concerned there could be a fracture. But we can do better. Enter the “Can’t Miss” series: a series organized by body part that will help identify common and catastrophic injuries. This list is not meant to be a comprehensive review of each body part, but rather to highlight and improve your sensitivity for these potentially catastrophic injuries. We reviewed the approach to the pediatric elbow previously. Now, the “Can’t Miss” pediatric elbow injuries. (more…)

By |2021-04-10T10:24:46-07:00Apr 5, 2021|EMRad, Orthopedic, Pediatrics, Radiology, Trauma|

SplintER Series: Kitty Nibble: A Case of the Sausage Finger


A 30-year-old female presents with left second finger pain with overlying erythema, warmth, and swelling the day after her cat bit her finger. She cannot fully extend the finger, it is tender and she has pain when it is passively extended. Her hand appears as shown above (Figure 1. Case courtesy of Kristina Kyle, MD).



SplintER Series: A Case of Hip Pain

humeral shaft fracture xray

Figure 1. Image prompt: AP view of the pelvis and left hip. Authors’ own images.

A 70-year-old male presents with left hip pain and inability to ambulate after a mechanical trip and fall. Examination demonstrates that the left lower extremity is shortened, abducted and externally rotated. Hip and pelvis x-rays are obtained (Figure 1).



EMRad: Radiologic Approach to the Pediatric Traumatic Elbow X-ray

This is EMRad, a series aimed at providing “just in time” approaches to commonly ordered radiology studies in the emergency department [1]. When applicable, it will provide pertinent measurements specific to management, and offer a framework for when to get an additional view, if appropriate. We recently covered the adult elbow, here we will cover the approach to the pediatric elbow.

Learning Objectives

  1. Interpret traumatic pediatric elbow x-rays using a standard approach
  2. Identify clinical scenarios in which an additional view might improve pathology diagnosis

Why the pediatric elbow matters and the radiology rule of 2’s

The Pediatric Elbow

  • 10% of all pediatric fractures involve the elbow [2].
  • Missed injuries can cause significant deformity, pain, or functional/neurologic complications [2].

Before we begin: Make sure to employ the rule of 2’s [3]

  • 2 views: One view is never enough.
  • 2 abnormalities: If you see one abnormality, look for another.
  • 2 joints: Image above and below (especially for forearm and leg).
  • 2 sides: If unsure regarding a potential pathologic finding, compare to another side.
  • 2 occasions: Always compare with old x-rays if available.
  • 2 visits: Bring the patient back for repeat films.

An approach to the traumatic pediatric elbow x-ray

  1. Adequacy / Alignment
  2. Effusions or Fat Pads
  3. Bones, Growth Plates, and Ossification Centers
  4. Consider an additional view

1.   Adequacy / Alignment

2.   Effusions or Fat Pads

  • An anterior fat pad can be normal, but is considered pathologic if excessively prominent (usually around ≥20 degrees from the humerus, or “sail sign”).
  • A clearly visualized posterior fat pad is always pathologic.
  • If either the sail sign or posterior fat pad is present, consider a supracondylar fracture or intra-articular fracture (e.g. lateral condyle fracture )

Sail sign

Figure 1: Measurement of apical angle of the anterior fat pad ≥ 20 degrees, concerning for sail sign. There is also a visible posterior fat pad. Case courtesy of Dr. Ian Bickle, Radiopaedia.org. Annotations by Daniel Ichwan, MD.

3.   Bones, Growth Plates, and Ossification Centers

Elbow x-ray

Figure 2: Lateral and AP x-rays of the elbow demonstrating humerus (green), radius (violet), and ulna (blue). Case courtesy of Dr. Jeremy Jones, Radiopaedia.org. Annotations by Daniel Ichwan, MD.

  • Immature bones with open growth plates (physes) are susceptible to injuries (Salter-Harris fractures) with important growth implications.
    • The Salter-Harris classification is as follows below:
      • Salter-Harris Type 1 (“Slipped”) – epiphysis (part of bone between the growth plate and adjacent joint) separates from metaphysis (neck portion of a long bone).
        • Pearl: Can appear radiographically normal, but tender on physical exam.
        • Requires splinting and ortho follow-up.
      • Type 2 (“Above”) – involves metaphysis (“above the physis”).
        • Requires splinting and ortho follow-up.
      • Type 3 (“Lower”) – involves epiphysis (“below the physis”).
        • Consult orthopedics in the department.
      • Type 4 (“Through”) – involves both the metaphysis and epiphysis.
        • Consult orthopedics in the department.
      • Type 5 (“Erasure”) – crushing of physis. May appear normal or focal narrowing of physis.
        • Consult orthopedics in the department

Figure 3: Salter-Harris Classification. Case courtesy of Dr. Matt Skalski, Radiopaedia.org.

  • Pediatric bones have a stronger periosteum than the underlying incompletely ossified bones.
    • Watch out for bowing, torus, greenstick, or avulsion injuries.
  • Trace each bone’s cortex carefully on both AP and lateral views.
  • Pay close attention to all aspects of the humerus, radius, and ulna.
  • Locate each expected ossification center per the patient’s age.
    • If there is one missing or seemingly prematurely present, consider a fracture.

Figure 4: Ossification centers on (a) AP pediatric elbow x-ray (case courtesy of Dr. Leonardo Lustosa, Radiopaedia.org) and (b) lateral pediatric elbow x-ray. Note that not all ossification centers are visible in this view (case courtesy of Dr. Ian Bickle, Radiopaedia.org. Figure 6 (b) annotations by Daniel Ichwan, MD


Table 1: Order and timing of appearance of elbow ossification centers. Some people remember this order by using the mnemonic “CRITOE”: capitellum, radial head, internal (medial) epicondyle, trochlea, olecranon, and external (lateral) epicondyle.

4.  Consider an Additional View

Oblique View

  • When: Sometimes included as the 3rd view in a series
  • Why: This is better at seeing the radiocapitellar joint, medial epicondyle, radioulnar joint, and coronoid process. Consider obtaining this view if there is a high suspicion for a subtle lateral condyle fracture or radial head fracture.

Elbow xray

Figure 6: Lateral oblique x-ray of the elbow. Case courtesy of Dr. Craig Hacking, Radiopaedia.org.

X-rays of Contralateral Elbow

  • Given variation among patients, sometimes it might be necessary to image the contralateral extremity to clarify whether the questionable finding is pathologic or actually normal.


  1. Schiller, P. et al. Radiology Education in Medical School and Residency. The views and needs of program directors. Academic Radiology, Vol 25, No 10, October 2018. PMID: 29748045
  2. DeFroda SF, Hansen H, Gil JA, Hawari AH, Cruz AI Jr. Radiographic Evaluation of Common Pediatric Elbow Injuries. Orthop Rev (Pavia). 2017;9(1):7030. Published 2017 Feb 20. PMID: 28286625
  3. Chan O. Introduction: ABCs and Rules of 2. In: ABC of Emergency Radiology. John Wiley & Sons, Ltd; 2013:1-10.
  4. Blumberg SM, Kunkov S, Crain EF, Goldman HS. The predictive value of a normal radiographic anterior fat pad sign following elbow trauma in children. Pediatr Emerg Care. 2011 Jul;27(7):596-600. PMID: 21712751
  5. Black KL, Duffy C, Hopkins-Mann C, Ogunnaiki-Joseph D, Moro-Sutherland D. Musculoskeletal Disorders in Children. In: Tintinalli JE, Stapczynski J, Ma O, Yealy DM, Meckler GD, Cline DM. eds. Tintinalli’s Emergency Medicine: A Comprehensive Study Guide, 8e. McGraw-Hill; Accessed December 22, 2020. https://accessmedicine.mhmedical.com/content.aspx?bookid=1658&sectionid=109408415
By |2021-05-15T12:49:15-07:00Mar 19, 2021|EMRad, Orthopedic, Pediatrics, Radiology, Trauma|
Go to Top