If you’ve experienced a fractured bone or you’re currently suffering a fracture right now – take heart. We’re going to address the fracture healing process and share 6 ways to speed up your recovery.
By following these tips, you’ll reduce the likelihood of fractures ever happening in the future. (That’s critical to your overall health, considering the 6-month mortality rate from hip fractures and resulting complications is 13.5%!)
By year 2 the mortality rate from hip fractures rises to 20%!
Sobering stats. But let’s discuss the fracture healing process so it doesn’t have to be you.
What Are The 5 Stages of Fractures Healing?
A bone fracture- while varying in severity- is the clinical term for a broken bone. The force exerted on the bone before the fracture was stronger than the bone itself.
Soon after, the bone undergoes a natural healing process. Here are the 5 stages of the fracture healing process:
Stage 1: Hematoma Formation
During the break, blood vessels are damaged as well. This creates a hematoma: clotted blood that swells inside the bone tissue.
Stage 2: Granulation Tissue Formation (Inflammation)
Hours later, the hematoma is reabsorbed while being replaced by inflammatory molecules. These molecules act to clean out dead bone and prepare the fracture site for tissue, cartilage and bone formation. A rebuilding of vessels and cells affected by the fracture.
Stage 3: Callus Formation
A soft callus is formed. The callus is made of newly formed osteoblasts (bone-building cells) and osteoclasts (bone-resorbing cells), the two types of cells needed for your natural bone remodeling process. Capillaries and supporting blood vessels connect into the callus as the rebuilding process continues.
Stage 4: Consolidation
The new bone built to this point is a softer bone called woven bone, but during Consolidation, the woven bone is replaced with a stronger type, lamellar bone.
Stage 5: Bone Remodelling
The lamellar bone ultimately fills in the fracture site and aligns in direction of the external forces on the bone. This stage can last anywhere from a few months to a few years.
How Long Does The Bone Healing Process Take?
In general, the most significant work in the bone healing process is completed in 6-8 weeks.
But speed can vary widely depending on the individual.
One key factor is age: Adults- especially seniors- experience a much longer road to recovery than children do. Any existing medical conditions that affect the natural bone remodeling process can also delay full recovery. Additionally, being deficient in bone-friendly nutrients can slow the process down too. Fracture or not, bone growth depends on a symphony of trace minerals and vitamins doing their job.
And regardless of age, the more severe the fracture, the longer the healing process will take.
While nature must run its course, there are things you can do to help speed up the bone healing process. Let’s discuss those now.
6 Tips For Healing Broken Bones, Naturally
1. Increase Protein Intake
About half of your bones’ volume is made of protein. So consuming more protein during healing is crucial to getting the proper “repairs” done to your broken bone. Calcium and other bone-building nutrients connect to protein, further highlighting its importance!
The available science shows even a 10 – 20-gram increase in protein per day can reduce fracture healing time. Many are not even getting the recommended 20-25 grams per meal, so be sure to err on the side of higher protein intake – and be sure to take protein with every meal so that the amino acids are always available for bone rebuilding.
The top complete protein food sources include wild fish like salmon, tuna, and halibut. Then there are meats like beef, pork, and chicken. Also consider eggs, quinoa, buckwheat, kefir, and yogurt. Now as a reminder, complete protein means the protein contains all nine essential amino acids necessary in adequate proportions. Plant foods are typically considered incomplete proteins, however, there are a few that are complete. Incomplete means they lack one or more of the amino acids necessary.
Now the good news is if you’re vegan or vegetarian and choose plant sources of protein, you can combine complementary incomplete proteins to give you the right balance of all the essential amino acids. For example, a kale salad with almonds or homemade hummus with pita.
2. Increase Caloric Intake
The bone healing process requires significant energy. In fact, studies show you need as much as 3 times your normal caloric intake to help speed up recovery. Your metabolism is essentially working overtime in repairing bone. So, rather than, say, a typical 2,500 caloric intake per day, you may benefit from as much as 6,000 calories per day to speed up recovery. (This gives you a perfect, scientifically-backed excuse to chow down on your favorite healthy foods and snacks!)
3. Increase Antioxidants
Antioxidants are important regardless of your bone health. But naturally, these free radical fighters can also accelerate healing for a bone fracture. In phase 2 of the bone healing process discussed above, inflammation was the key activity. Inflammation wreaks havoc on the body, attacking the immune system and leading to a wide variety of health ailments, left unchecked. But this is where antioxidants come in handy.
Because of all the free radicals swirling around the fracture site, your tissues are swollen with inflammatory molecules. They can overwhelm your existing antioxidant reserves. That’s why consuming more antioxidants is crucial to combat these oxidizing free radicals.
Antioxidants keep the oxidizing effect of free radicals in check and have been proven to improve fracture healing time in animal studies. One study on calcium metabolism and oxidative stress in bone fractures show antioxidants like Vitamins E and C, lycopene and alpha-lipoic acid can be helpful in extinguishing the free radicals’ damage.
In particular, Vitamin C has been studied extensively for its antioxidant activity on bone healing. One study published in the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery studied the effect of vitamin C on fracture healing in elderly rats. Researchers found that supplementary vitamin C ‘improved the mechanical resistance of the fracture callus in elderly rats.’ They suggest that these results may also be mirrored in healing fractures in elderly humans.
4. Minimize Pain Medication
The fourth way to shorten fracture healing time is to limit and minimize pain meds, if possible.
Pain meds, known as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs – or NSAIDs for short- can play an essential role in controlling pain. However, several studies have suggested that NSAIDs can interfere with bone healing.
How? By reducing osteoclast activity. In other words, they reduce the activity of your helpful bone resorbing cells, meaning weak bone isn’t recycled in your body. Also, while these anti-inflammatory drugs work to relieve pain and inflammation, it’s been shown that they may actually induce inflammation in some cases.
Studies have shown that patients at risk for delayed fracture healing should avoid them. If you’re considering using NSAIDs, clinicians suggest taking them for no longer than one week after fracture.
5. Bone Healthy Supplements
Healing broken bones requires more of your “usual suspect” bone-building vitamins and minerals: calcium, magnesium, vitamin D, and others. So it’s important to not only consume more foods with these ingredients but choose the right dietary supplements to help out.
It’s little wonder why: minerals account for about 70% of our bones’ total weight. And did you know your bones require no less than 13 different minerals to stay strong and dense? You may not have even heard of some of them, like vanadium, strontium, selenium, and others.
If you can stick to an all organic diet with lots of calcium rich foods, fresh vegetables, fruits and lean meats you will likely get all the minerals you need for fastest healing.
However, due to mass production, today’s more typical western diet consists of mineral deficient foods. If that more closely describes what you eat, then that’s where supplements come in.
A good multi-mineral and bone healing supplement will ensure that you aren’t shortchanging your bones of the building blocks they need.
A bone growth supplement like AlgaeCal Plus also contains Vitamin K2 (a natural calcium recycler that moves calcium to the bones and out of your arteries).And vitamin D, which also plays a role in bone healing.
Finally, another supplement worth mentioning is Omega 3 fish oil. Known for its laundry list of health benefits- from your brain to your toenails, and everything in between- it’s also a bone-friendly nutrient that can speed up healing by combatting inflammation.
Look for an Omega 3 supplement like Triple Power Omega 3 Fish Oil— it contains clinical doses of EPA and DHA and two of the most powerful antioxidants in its highly absorbable emulsion: turmeric curcumin and astaxanthin.
There’s a mounting body of research on Omega 3’s importance in bone health. The bottom line is, Omega 3 combats inflammation and promotes the healthy activity of our bone-building cells!
6. Physical Therapy
Bone healing requires adequate blood flow and circulation to the fracture site, which is enhanced through exercise. The range of motion, joint loading, and specific tendon gliding exercises should be used to avoid stress on the fractured bone while accelerating healing.
If you’re not sure how to do those exercises, not to worry. You can visit the following helpful resources:
- After the Fracture – Osteoporosis Canada: Provides information about pain and practice tips for movement following a fracture. How to sit and stand, get out of a car and bending are all covered.
- Livestrong.com: Hosts various posts around fracture healing exercises. A couple top posts include Rehab Exercises for Tibia or Fibula and Physical Therapy for a Broken Wrist.
- Physiopedia discusses various physical therapy management technicals ranging from easy to hard weight-bearing, balance and stepping exercises.
- Epainassist has simple, easy to follow tutorials for various physical therapy exercises, including post pelvic exercises.
- Verywell.com: Gives useful information that you can keep in mind during your physical therapy program after a bone fracture.
What Slows Down Bone Healing?
Just as there are bone-friendly actions you can take during the fracture healing process, there are also bone-harming factors.
- Smoking: A no-no for any health-related topic. Numerous studies have shown a negative effect on bone-healing including delayed healing and complications. Smoking also reduces blood flow, which is one of the “bone-friendly” needs mentioned above.
- Poor eating: Processed, high-sugar, and bad fat (like trans fat) foods are all debilitating to your body. Naturally, this extends to your bones too. Without healthy, vitamin- and mineral-rich foods nourishing your bones, you’re putting your recovery at a huge disadvantage.
- Alcohol: Alcohol consumption is a known to have detrimental effects on bone metabolism and oxidative stress from alcohol appears to play a crucial role. One study published in the Journal of Orthopedic Trauma showed that binge alcohol consumption alters the quality of fracture healing. On the other hand, antioxidants were able to reverse this effect, which is why antioxidant intake should be increased during fracture healing and is mentioned above.
- Certain medications: Immunosuppressants are known to be detrimental to bone growth.These drugs are used to inhibit the immune system, to combat autoimmune diseases like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis (which make your own immune system attack the body). Also used post-transplant, so your body won’t reject a new organ.
- Medical conditions: Vascular disease and diabetes can also interfere with the fracture healing process.
- Exercise (too soon): Yes, exercise was one of the bone-friendly activities mentioned above. But it’s only beneficial once enough time has passed to make the bone able to handle exercise. You must confirm with your doctor when that time is, as your healing timeline will differ from the next person’s. You wouldn’t sit down on a chair with a broken leg, would you?
Bone Fracture Healing FAQs
What is a bone fracture?
A fracture is a medical term for a broken bone. Fractures vary by severity, with small cracks in the bone (called a “hairline fracture”) to a complete break all the way through, into either two or more pieces.
What is the process of a healing fracture?
For a full description of the fracture healing process, see “What are the 5 stages of fractures healing?” section above. There are 5 steps to the fracture healing process: 1) Hematoma Formation. Blood vessels are ruptured and bone tissue swells. 2) Granulation Tissue Formation (Inflammation). The hematoma is swarmed by inflammatory molecules. These molecules work to clear out dead bone as they react to the trauma. 3) Callous Formation. Bone-building and bone-resorbing cells begin to form to restart the body’s natural bone remodeling process. 4) Consolidation. Stronger (lamellar) bone replaces the soft (woven) bone that’s been built to this point. 5) Bone Remodelling. Lamellar bone fills in the fracture site until the healing process is complete.
What is a soft callus on the bone?
The soft callus material during fracture healing occurs in the Callus Formation stage of bone healing. It’s a consolidation of new proteins partly produced by your bone-building cells (osteoblasts). It can also refer to an undesirable consistency of your bone, as a soft or “rubbery” callus isn’t structurally strong like a rigid callus of those with healthier bones. A poor diet can lead to this state, particularly protein malnutrition.
What are bone healing foods?
Foods high in protein are great for fracture healing. Your bones crave protein during the rebuilding process, as they’re needed to help transport calcium to the bones, but also because your bones are about 50% protein by volume!
Healthy treats and snacks are also important, as the fracture healing process also requires a substantial jump in daily caloric intake. That’s because your bone cells need the energy to do their job.
Here’s a quick list of bone healing foods to consider: dairy products like milk and cheeses; canned sardines and salmon (with bones); collard greens, kale, and broccoli; spinach, okra, and potatoes; papaya, oranges and bananas; red and green peppers, grapefruits and pineapples.
For a complete list, please visit this page on best foods for osteoporosis.
What are bone healing supplements?
A multi-nutrient calcium supplement is the best way to go during the bone healing process. That is, a natural, plant-based calcium source that contains all 13 bone-building minerals your bones must have. Not calcium supplements that might contain magnesium and Vitamin D, but a calcium supplement with trace minerals that speed up the healing process.
That’s why a calcium supplement like AlgaeCal Plus works well. In fact, it guarantees increased bone density within 6 months when taken with potent Strontium Boost. How? Because it contains all the trace minerals you need, and is well absorbed (coming from a marine algae– not straight from a rock quarry like 95% of the calcium supplements out there now).
Look to minerals like vanadium, strontium, phosphorus and more.
Finally, another supplement for healing bone through its anti-inflammatory properties is Omega 3 fish oil. Omega 3 fish oil is an antioxidant that destroys free radicals– like those causing inflammation in your bones, which can lead to thinning.
Look to a fish oil that’s preferably not in an enteric coated capsule (the fish oil can be rancid depending on manufacturing practices), and that comes from a good fatty fish like mackerel, sardines or anchovies. If it has added antioxidants, so much the better. We prefer Triple Power Omega 3 Fish Oil ourselves.
What is the fracture healing time in adults?
Fracture healing time depends on several factors. First, it’s important to know the older you are, the longer, in general, it will take a fracture to heal.
You’ll also recover from a fracture much quicker if you’re constantly nourishing your bones with the bone healing foods mentioned above. Extra antioxidants and bone growth supplements will shortcut your recovery time as well.
In general, the most significant work in the bone healing process is completed in 6-8 weeks. Timelines vary by body part- anywhere from 3-12 weeks or more- but expect it to take longer if you’ve got a severe fracture vs. a less serious hairline fracture, for example.
Bone Healing Takeaways
Your bones are living tissues.
They are made of living cells and have their own blood vessels, which help them to grow and repair themselves. In addition, your bones are made up of proteins, vitamins, and minerals that play critical roles in bone formation, maintenance, and the fracture healing process.
So while fracturing a bone can be frightening and leave you with many questions regarding your bone strength and density, it can also be an opportunity. An opportunity to make diet, nutrition and lifestyle changes that will improve your fracture healing time and overall bone strength going forward.
To see how others are reclaiming their bone density, naturally, check out real success stories from AlgaeCal customers here.