Most of us have broken or will break a bone somewhere along the line. We all know that a broken bone can hold you up and slow you down. There’s nothing more frustrating than a lengthy healing process as we long to get back to our daily routines and favorite activities. Making sure the bone heals safely and properly is job number one for your orthopaedist. However, there are some steps you can take to safely speed up healing of a broken bone, and a high-quality, injury-appropriate physical therapy program is high on the list.
How Does a Broken Bone Heal?
According to the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons, all broken bones go through the same three-step healing process:
- Inflammation starts immediately after the fracture when clotting blood at the fracture site provides the structural stability for producing new bone.
- Bone production starts at the fracture site with a material called soft callus, made up of soft tissue and cartilage.
- The final phase, known as bone remodeling, can last several months as new bone forms and remolds into its former shape.
How Long Does Bone Healing Take?
According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, the time frame depends on the age of the patient and the type and location of the fracture. Healing can range from 6 weeks or even less for certain lower arm and wrist fractures to 6 months for more challenging leg breaks.
Children’s bones generally heal faster than adults’ bones.
How Can I Speed Up Healing of a Broken Bone?
There are a number of factors to consider when looking to speed up the healing of a broken bone:
- Immobilization: Keeping bone fragments from moving is an important factor in fast and safe healing. A cast is often used to immobilize the bone, and in some cases, your surgeon may rely on other options including screws, plates or wires to keep the bone in place. Whatever strategy your surgeon chooses, it’s important to follow doctor’s orders during the healing process, limiting movement and activity as directed.
- Nutrition: According to a 2017 study in the Journal of Osteoporosis, deficiencies in certain nutrients can affect the time it takes a broken bone to heal. Vitamins and minerals including calcium and Vitamin D are essential to bone health. A diet rich in those nutrients, including dairy products, green vegetables, cod liver oil, certain fatty fish and eggs can help boost bone health and speed healing.
- Avoid smoking and alcohol: Smoking and excessive alcohol consumption can have a negative impact on bone health. In the event of a broken bone, quitting smoking is strongly recommended and limiting alcohol can also help healing, according to the same 2017 study.
- Medications: Tell your orthopaedist about prescription and over the counter medications you are taking as some drugs can slow down bone repair.
- Physical Therapy: A high-quality physical therapy program is an important element in speeding up the healing process and can start early on.
How Does Physical Therapy Promote Faster Healing?
Circulation is essential for bone repair, so keeping the blood flowing through exercise helps bones heal. This is one reason physical therapy is so important in promoting safe and speedy healing. Your orthopaedist and physical therapist will work together to create a program to help you heal and regain strength and range of motion.
Your physical therapy program can start with gentle range of motion exercises while your bone is still in a cast. This keeps the arm or leg from getting stiff and helps muscles stay strong as well as improving circulation. For hand and wrist injuries, so-called tendon glide exercises involving moving the thumb and fingers can help keep those tendons strong and supple.
Physical therapy can also help you learn to move safely while your bone is immobilized. This promotes faster healing and helps avoid reinjury. For hand or arm fractures, this can mean adapting movements while in a cast or sling. For leg fractures, your therapist can help you use crutches or a cane safely to avoid putting too much weight on a healing bone.
In some cases, your doctor may recommend electrical stimulation to help speed bone healing, especially in the case of a hard to heal fracture. Studies indicate that these non-invasive electrical stimulation devices can boost the cellular processes that lead to bone regeneration and help rebuild stronger bones more quickly. Your physical therapist and orthopaedist can tell you if electrical stimulation is the right approach for you.
Healing Broken Bones at Countryside Orthopaedics
At Countryside Orthopaedics, treating broken bones and helping you heal effectively are among our specialties. We offer excellent care from surgery to postoperative care and therapy from our top-notch physicians, certified physician assistants and orthopaedic technologists, along with our comprehensive physical therapy and hand therapy staff. After a break, our goal is to help you regain strength and function and recover quickly and safely so that you can get back to doing what you love.