The mammalian growth plate is a complex structure which is essential for the elongation of long bones. However, an understanding of how the growth plate functions at the cellular level is lacking. This review, summarises the factors involved in growth-plate regulation, its failure and the consequence of injury. We also describe some of the cellular mechanisms which underpin the increase in volume of the growth-plate chondrocyte which is the major determinant of the rate and extent of bone lengthening. We show how living in situ chondrocytes can be imaged using 2-photon laser scanning microscopy to provide a quantitative analysis of their volume. This approach should give better understanding of the cellular control of bone growth in both healthy and failed growth plates.