If you’ve experienced a fractured bone or you’re currently suffering through a fracture right now – take heart. We’re going to address the fracture healing process and share six 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%!)¹
By year two, the mortality rate from hip fractures rises to 20%!
Sobering stats. But let’s discuss the fracture healing process so you don’t have to become a statistic.
What Are The 5 Stages of Fracture Healing?
A bone fracture, while varying in severity, is the clinical term for a broken bone. A bone will break if the force exerted on it, from a fall or impact for example, is stronger than the bone itself. Soon after, the bone undergoes a natural healing process. There are 5 stages of the fracture healing process,² which we explain below:
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 are your body’s first line of defense and clean out dead bone and prepare the fracture site for tissue, cartilage, and bone formation. This stage is 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 the consolidation stage of healing, a stronger type of bone called lamellar bone replaces the woven bone.
Stage 5: Bone Remodeling
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.³ 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.
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 building depends on a symphony of trace minerals and vitamins doing their job. (We cover exactly which minerals and vitamins your bones need, plus the bone-building supplement that provides them all, in the “6 Tips For Healing Broken Bones, Naturally” section a little further down this page).
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. You’ll find additional information on each tip in the following sections too!
6 Tips For Healing Broken Bones, Naturally
You can’t build new bone (or anything else in your body for that matter) without protein. After all, protein accounts for around half the volume of bone and a quarter of the mass!⁴ So consuming enough protein is crucial for healing a broken bone. So how much protein is enough? Well, the recommended daily allowance of protein is currently 0.8 g per kg of body weight. But this recommendation was set – over a decade ago – with preventing a protein deficiency in mind. Researchers agree that for optimal health, you need more protein. And that’s especially true for older adults, and those recovering from a fracture! In fact, recent research suggests an intake of 1 to 1.5 g of protein per kg of body weight instead.⁵ Here’s an example to help you out: An older adult who weighs 140 lbs would first divide their weight by 2.2 (to calculate their weight in kilograms) = 64 kg. Then they’d multiply this number by 1.5 (the upper end of the new recommended protein intake) = 95 g of protein needed daily. For reference, a 3.5 oz (100g) chicken breast provides around 30 g of protein. So a little over three chicken breasts a day would reach the target intake. Now, the major reason you need dietary protein to build and repair bone is that it supplies your body with essential amino acids– the building blocks of life! Your body can produce some amino acids itself. These are called the non-essential amino acids. But adults can’t produce eight of the 20 amino acids, so you need to provide them via your diet. These are the essential amino acids. When it comes to choosing your protein source, animal proteins, like fish, meats, and dairy products are considered complete proteins. That’s because they provide all of the essential amino acids. Plant-based protein sources, like grains, legumes, and vegetables are typically incomplete. That’s because they lack one or two of the essential amino acids (although there are some exceptions like quinoa.) But vegans and vegetarians needn’t worry about missing out on some of the essential amino acids. You don’t need to intake all the essential amino acids in one go. As long as you consume complementary proteins throughout the day, you’ll be fine. And as a rule of thumb, try to include some form of protein in every meal of the day. To discover the top sources of protein, and for a little more information on how protein and bone health are linked, visit our “Everything You Need To Know About Protein and Bone Health” page.
There’s no need to drastically increase your calorie consumption while you’re recovering from a fracture.⁶ In fact, maintaining the recommended guideline of 1,600 to 2,400 calories per day for adult women and 2,000 to 3,000 calories per day for adult men will still be sufficient. As long as you use your calorie intake wisely that is! Depending on the bone you’ve fractured, you could be unable to exercise as much as you’d ideally need to. So it becomes even more important to fuel your body with optimal nutrition. To help your body heal and remain strong, the calories you consume need to be nutrient-dense foods, instead of the empty calories in processed and refined foods. In fact, you need 13 nutrients in particular to maintain strong, healthy bones:
Plus a handful of vitamins too:
These nutrients become even more important during the healing process of a broken bone too! For more information on the optimal diet for bone health, visit our “Diet and Nutrition” page. Plus, continue reading to discover how to get ALL these nutrients in one bone-building “super-food.”
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. Particularly vitamins C and E. 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 antioxidants is crucial to combat these oxidizing free radicals. Antioxidants keep the oxidizing effect of free radicals in check and have been shown to improve fracture healing time in animal studies. One study on calcium metabolism and oxidative stress in bone fractures shows antioxidants like vitamins E and C, lycopene and alpha-lipoic acid can be helpful in extinguishing free radical damage.⁷
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.⁸ Vitamin C is also vital for building collagen– the predominant protein in the bone matrix!⁹
Top Sources of Vitamin C
- Citrus fruits like oranges, tangerines, and lemons
Please note: If you take a vitamin C supplement, make sure you’re not consuming more than 500 mg in one go. Your body can’t process more than 500 mg at a time.
Vitamin E is highly anti-inflammatory, which, as we’ve discussed, is very beneficial in the healing process of a broken bone.¹⁰ Here’s the thing with vitamin E though; supplements rarely provide you with the full benefit. See, vitamin E supplements only provide one form of vitamin E– alpha-tocopherol. This form of vitamin E will only help you to get rid of certain free radicals, and can actually inhibit your ability to remove others. So you’ll need to provide some vitamin E via your diet to receive the full range, including gamma tocopherol.
Top Sources of Vitamin E
The best source of dietary vitamin E is nuts and seeds like:
- Sunflower seeds
Minimize Pain Medication
Anyone who’s broken a bone knows there’s a certain amount of pain involved. But while it’s tempting to reach for pain medications during the healing process, you should know they could be doing more harm than good. Pain meds, known as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (or NSAIDs for short) are sold under many brand names. But NSAIDs may actually increase the time it takes for your body to resolve inflammation.¹¹ That means it could take longer for your broken bone to heal! But that’s not to say you should suffer the pain of a broken bone with no relief. If you’re going to use pain medication, use aspirin. Aspirin won’t interfere with the resolution of inflammation. (It’s important to follow the dosing guidelines provided on the bottle though). Speaking of inflammation, did you know omega 3 fatty acids, especially eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), combat the inflammation in your body? The very same inflammation that causes bone loss and can delay the healing process of a fracture if it’s left unchecked! That’s why we created Triple Power Omega 3 Fish Oil. Triple Power provides 1200 mg combined of EPA and DHA in a mango-flavored liquid emulsion that’s super absorbable and super delicious! What’s more, Triple Power provides two more of the world’s most powerful anti-inflammatories– astaxanthin and turmeric curcumin.
In the caloric intake section above, we mentioned 13 minerals and three vitamins you need for strong, healthy bones. And especially for when you’re healing a broken bone. But there’s a catch… conventional farming and agricultural practices tend to focus on quantity above quality. As a result, our topsoil is becoming less capable of holding moisture and trace minerals, so our produce contains less as a result. Including the trace minerals your bones crave! What’s more, conventional farming practices tend to use pesticides. These pesticides leave harmful residue on produce which can actually harm your bones further. So, when you can, always try to eat organically grown produce. (You can see the Environmental Working Group’s Annual Shopper’s Guide to produce with the most, and least, pesticides by clicking here). But to give your bones the best chance to fully heal and remain strong thereafter, you should consider a bone-building supplement. AlgaeCal Plus provides ALL 13 essential minerals and the three vital vitamins in one convenient capsule. The calcium in AlgaeCal Plus is plant-based. It’s actually derived from a marine algae called Lithothamnion superpositum (or Algas Calcareas as the locals call it) harvested off the coasts of South America. In fact, this “super-food” provides the other 12 minerals your bones need too! The three vital vitamins are added to AlgaeCal Plus to make it a truly complete bone-healing supplement. The vitamin D helps your body absorb the calcium. And the vitamin K2 helps to direct the calcium to the right place– your bones, and away from the wrong places– your soft tissue, arteries, and organs! (The additional vitamin K2 is especially important, as it’s very rare to come by in food products). No wonder Bone Health Experts like Lara Pizzorno use AlgaeCal Plus!
Bone healing requires adequate blood flow and circulation to the fracture site, which is enhanced through exercise. 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.
- Physiopedia discusses various physical therapy management techniques 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.
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:
SmokingA no-no for any health-related topic. Numerous studies have shown smoking has a negative effect on bone-healing, including delayed healing and complications.¹⁵ Smoking also reduces blood flow, which is one of the “bone-friendly” needs mentioned above.
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 consumption is 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.¹⁶ On the other hand, antioxidants were able to reverse this effect, which is why antioxidants are crucial during the fracture healing process as we mentioned in the section above.
Immunosuppressants are known to be detrimental to bone health. 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 your body). These medications are also used post-transplant, so your body won’t reject a new organ.
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 and your bones 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 on a chair that has a broken leg, would you?
Bone Healing Takeaways
Your bones are living tissues. They’re 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.
For more information on what steps to take to improve your bone health, visit our osteoporosis treatment page.
Frequently Asked Questions
- What is a bone fracture?
A fracture is a medical term for a broken bone. Fractures vary by severity, from 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) Callus 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.¹⁶
- 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! It’s important to maintain your caloric intake during the bone healing process, too. But above all, it’s important to consume nutrient-dense foods. 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). 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-building 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.
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