Everyone who experiences a fracture will heal differently. Factors include how and if the fracture was managed in surgery, age, nutrition, overall health and whether or not you smoke.
Most fractures heal in 6-8 weeks, but this varies tremendously from bone to bone and in each person based on many of the factors mentioned above. Hand and wrist fractures often heal in 4-6 weeks whereas a tibia fracture may take 20 weeks or more.
Healing time for fractures are divided into three phases:
Inflammatory Phase starts at the time of injury and lasts 1-2 weeks. Bleeding around the fracture organizes into a fracture hematoma or clot on the bone ends. Damage to the tissues results in cell death which is cleaned up by an inflammatory response. The blood clot organizes into a protein mesh where the bone begins to “knit”.
Repair Phase takes place the next 2-3 weeks where actual tissue repair occurs and new living cells of bone, cartilage and fibrous tissue occur at the fracture site. This leads to the formation of a rubbery tissue called “fracture callus”. Calcium is deposited into the callus and can be seen on x-ray at 2-3 weeks after injury.
Remodeling occurs as the fracture callus is replaced with strong organized bone. Remodeling goes on for months after the fracture is no longer painful and appears to be healed on x-rays.
How can you help or speed up fracture healing?
- Follow your doctor’s orders in terms of activity. Some fractures may require early activity and weight bearing to speed fracture healing. Others need to be immobilized and avoid weight bearing. Muscle use in the injured limb helps blood flow, reduces swelling and speeds exchange of nutrients to damaged tissues. It also helps to reduce stiffness and muscle atrophy (shrinkage).
- Nutrition: Maintain a well-balanced diet. Protein, Vitamins C, D, and K are all essential for fracture healing. Calcium, Magnesium, Phosphorus and Zinc are all elements needed for bone formation and to accelerate the healing process. Get as much of these nutrients from food sources as possible versus supplements.
- Smoking: If you smoke, STOP. This is probably the greatest single thing you can do to help fracture healing. Smoking inhibits fine capillary blood flow that is essential to healing.
- Avoid high doses of Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory medicines such as aspirin, ibuprofen or naproxen. These medications can inhibit the early phase of fracture healing.