Healing Broken Bones as Quickly as Possible

6 Ideas to Speed Bone Healing After Injury

girl with cast sitting on sofa
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Fractures, broken bones—you can call it what you wish, they mean the same thing—are among the most common orthopedic problems; about seven million broken bones come to medical attention each year in the United States. The average person in a developed country can expect to sustain two fractures over the course of their lifetime.

Despite what you may have heard, a broken bone is not worse than a fracture, they both mean the same thing.

In fact, the word fracture, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is defined as "the act of being broken." There are different types of fractures and broken bones, but these words mean the same thing!

How Fractures Occur

Fractures occur because an area of bone is not able to support the energy placed on it (quite obvious, but it becomes more complicated). Therefore, there are two critical factors in determining why a fracture occurs: the energy of the event and the strength of the bone.

The energy can be sudden, high-energy (e.g. car crash), or chronic, low-energy (e.g. stress fracture). The bone strength can either be normal or decreased (for example, weak bone is seen in patients with osteoporosis). A very simple problem, the broken bone, just became a whole lot more complicated! 

Therefore, the injuries where fractures most often occur are the result of a lot of energy such as a car crash or a fall from a height, or abnormally weak bone as is seen in elderly individuals with osteoporosis.

The reason why the fracture occurred is often helpful in determining the best treatment for the injury.

Most Common Broken Bones

Orthopedic surgeons treat fractures throughout the skeletal frame, except for the skull (neurosurgeon) and face (ENT, or ear, nose, and throat surgeon). Extremity fractures are most common, and usually occur in men younger than age 45, and then become more common in women over age 45.

After this age, women have a more rapid loss of bone density and a likelihood of developing bone thinning.  This is why women are particularly susceptible to osteoporosis and subsequent fractures. The most common fracture prior to age 75 is a wrist fracture. In those over age 75, hip fractures become the most common broken bone.

Healing Broken Bones

Healing a broken bone takes time, and many patients don't want to be patient! Healing a broken bone is a process related to factors including patient age, overall health, nutrition, blood flow to the bone, and treatment. Following these six tips may help:

  1. Stop SmokingSome of the recommendations in this list may be controversial, or unknown the extent to which they affect bone healing. However, this much is clear: patients who smoke, have a much longer average time to healing, and a much higher risk of developing a nonunion (non-healing of the bone). Smoking alters the blood flow to bone, and it is that blood flow that delivers the necessary nutrients and cells to allow the bone to heal. The number one thing you can do to ensure your recovery from a fracture is not smoke. If you know someone who has a fracture and smokes, find ways to help them quit. 
  1. Eat a Balanced Diet. Healing of bone requires more nutrients that the body needs to simply maintain bone health. Patients with injuries should eat a balanced diet, and ensure adequate nutritional intake of all food groups. What we put in to our body determines how well the body can function and recover from injury. If you break a bone, make sure you are eating a balanced diet so that your bone has the necessary nutrition to make a full recovery.
  2. Watch Your Calcium. Patients with broken bones tend to focus on this one, and I place it below balanced diet, because the focus should be on all nutrients. It's true that calcium is needed to heal bones, but taking excessive doses of calcium will not help you heal faster. Ensure you are consuming the recommended dose of calcium, and if not, try to consume more natural calcium--or consider a supplement. Taking mega-doses of calcium does not help a bone heal faster.
  1. Adhere to Your Treatment Plan. Your doctor will recommend a treatment, and you should adhere to this. Your doctor may recommend treatments including cast, surgery, crutches, or others. Altering the treatment ahead of schedule may delay your recovery. By removing a cast or walking on a broken bone before your doctor allows, you may be delaying your healing time.
  2. Ask Your Doctor. There are some fractures that may have treatment alternatives. For example, "Jones" fractures of the foot are a controversial treatment area. Studies have shown these fractures usually heal with immobilization in a cast and crutches. However, many doctors will offer surgery for these fractures because patients tend to heal much faster.

    Surgery creates potential risks, so these options much be weighed carefully. However, there may be options which alter the time it takes for a bone to heal.

  3. Augmenting Fracture Healing. Most often, external devices are not too helpful in accelerating fracture healing. Electrical stimulationultrasound treatment, and magnet have not been shown to accelerate the healing of most fractures. However, in difficult situations, these may be helpful to aid in the healing of broken bones.

Everyone wants their bone to heal as quickly as possible, but the truth is that it will still require some time for the injury to recover. Taking these steps will ensure that you are doing everything you can to make your bone recovers as soon as possible.

Sources:

Nelson, FR, et al. Use of Physical Forces in Bone Healing. J Am Acad Ortho Surg. September/October 2003; 11: 344 - 354.

Puzas JE, Houck J, Bukata SV. Accelerated fracture healing. J Am Acad Orthop Surg. 2006;14(10 Spec No.):S145-51.

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