While testifying in child abuse cases, physicians have been frustrated by the lawyer who asks, "Doctor, how did this injury happen?" The medical records and radiographs of 215 children younger than the age of 3 with fractures evaluated by a pediatric service during a 5-year period were retrospectively reviewed in an attempt to elucidate the mechanism of childhood fractures. Based on these reviews, two clinicians and two pediatric radiologists rated the likelihood that the fracture was either accidental or due to child abuse. Long-bone fractures were strongly associated with abuse. This report focuses on the 39 children with either humeral or femoral fractures. Fourteen children had humerus fractures. Eleven were considered to be the result of child abuse, and 3 the result of accidents. The latter 3 were supracondylar elbow fractures in children who fell from a tricycle, a rocking horse, or downstairs. Humerus fractures other than supracondylar fractures were all found to be due to abuse. There were 25 femur fractures. Nine were found to be from abuse, 14 were found to be from accidents, and 2 could not be rated. Sixty percent of femur fractions in infants younger than 1 year of age were due to abuse. Although it is taught that femur fractures in young children are inflicted unless proven otherwise, in this study it was found that femur fractures often are accidental and that the femur can be fractured when the running child trips and falls.

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