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Before knowing about the signs that a broken bone is healing, let’s know what causes bone fractures or broken bones. It happens when a huge amount of pressure is put on the bone such that it can’t take any longer.
A fall, an accident, or even a tackle during a football game can be some of the reasons why the bone breaks.
While these are some of the cases when the bone is involved externally, there are also cases when spontaneously broken bones occur due to calcium deficiency, malignancy, over-exposure to vitamin A, and many other reasons.
A few of the common symptoms of broken bones are swelling, bruising, bleeding, broken skin with bone protruding, and a visibly out-of-shape or misshapen limb or joint.
So, let’s now take you through how a bone breaks, the type of doctors to consult, the bone fracture treatment, pointers to take note of so as to not delay the process of healing, the stages of pain you might have to undergo after a bone fracture and finally the technique for faster healing.
What Happens When Your Bone Breaks?
Generally, when a bone breaks, it bleeds and our bones contain thousands of blood vessels that supply the cells inside.
During this, a blood clot is formed which then pools into a glob that surrounds the broken ends of the bone. This clotted blood is good and normal–the cells and proteins inside it provide a type of scaffold that allows the bone cells to know where to grow.
Most Common Signs that a Broken Bone is Healing
When pain similar to that of the fractures is felt, it means that there might be swelling near the bone fracture.
This swelling will diminish over time. So, if your swollen areas start to return to normal, then it means that the callus is developing and is slowly healing the broken bone.
This also means that your body does not have to move as much blood to that area, which gives signs a broken bone is healing.
If you start to feel that the pain you experienced at the time of the fracture suddenly starts to decrease without having to use any painkillers or other pain-relief medications, then that is one of the big signs a broken bone is healing!
Soon after the fracture, your movement of the area of the broken bone might have been quite difficult. So if you begin to realize that you can move your broken bone area without much pain, then it definitely gives signs a broken bone is healing properly.
Which Doctor You Should Consult?
1. Orthopedic Surgeons
These doctors mainly focus on caring for your bones, joints, ligaments, nerves, and tendons. Some orthopedic doctors have their own fields of specialization, like hips, back, neck, shoulder and elbow, knee, foot and ankle, and hand and wrist.
Do all Orthopedic Surgeons Recommend Surgery?
Well, there is this wrong notion about orthopedic surgeons that they all recommend surgery, well in most cases surgery is a last resort.
Otherwise, they usually recommend physical therapy, rest, medications, and recommend certain lifestyle changes.
2. Foot and Ankle Surgeons
Now, for fractures related to your foot and ankle, the foot and ankle surgeons might be the best ones you can choose to consult, Foot and ankle doctors are board-certified surgical specialists of the orthopedic profession.
How is a Broken Bone Treated?
If your fracture is mild and your bones did not move far out of place, you might only need a splint or cast. If a cast is recommended, it will likely be for longer, typically six to eight weeks. If the bone requires splinting, it might take somewhere close to three to five weeks for the broken bone to heal.
In most cases of a broken bone, the treatment usually includes immobilizing the bone with a plaster cast or surgically inserting metal rods or plates to hold the bone pieces together. Some severe and complicated fractures may also need surgery and surgical traction.
What Happens in Cases of Slow Healing?
If the bone is not healing as well as expected or fails to heal, the foot and ankle surgeons can choose from a variety of treatment options to enhance the bone growth, such as continued immobilization for a longer period, bone stimulation, or surgery with bone grafting or use of bone growth.
How can the Process of Bone Healing be Hampered?
A wide variety of factors can slow down the process of bone healing:
- These include movement of the bone fragments, opting for weight bearing too soon, smoking (this can constrict the blood vessels and decrease blood flow), poor nutrition or impaired metabolism, and low levels of calcium and Vitamin D.
- Try to refrain from smoking, as smoking alters the blood flow to the bone which can prevent healing. Informing a doctor at an early stage and getting prompt treatment for your injuries can prevent delays in the healing process.
- Do not rush it, trying to move or use your injured body part can cause damage, make it difficult for the bone to heal, and hamper the signs a broken bone is healing.
What are the Phases of Pain You Can Undergo Following a Fractured Bone?
Usually, there are three phases of pain following a broken bone. These are referred to as acute pain, sub-acute pain, and chronic pain.
1. Acute Pain Phase
This lingering pain begins immediately after the injury, it is that sudden, intense, kind of pain you get right after the fracture that lets you know something is wrong, which gradually decreases with time.
While, inside your body, the break has caused damage to sensitive nerves that send rapid, sharp pain signals to the brain.
2. Sub-Acute Pain Phase
This is the pain that usually occurs the first few weeks after the fracture while the bone and soft tissues are healing. As the bone heals and your body heals, the pain decreases slowly.
3. Chronic Pain Phase
This pain continues long after the fracture and soft tissues have finished healing.
This pain can continue even after the injury or illness that caused it has healed or gone away.
The amount of pain and its type and other symptoms can change, as will your range of motion and strength.
How Do You Make Sure Your Bone Heals Faster?
A lot of the bone healing process is dependent on the biology surrounding the fracture site. A lot of things go into promoting healing and laying new bone, and eating a healthy diet ensures your body has the nutrients, vitamins, and minerals needed to support the biology of healing bone.
Thus, a healing bone requires a healthy balanced diet, that is full of vegetables, fruits, lean protein, and water so that it can begin healing properly and thus start showing signs a broken bone is healing.
In particular, adequate nutrition like calcium, vitamin D, and proteins will be important during the bone healing process, so be sure you’re focusing on food sources rich in these nutrients, including dark, leafy greens, broccoli, fish, meat, yogurt, nuts, and seeds.
How Does the Fracture Healing Process Take Place?
On average, broken bones heal in around six to eight weeks before they can be back to normal again.
For young children, the broken bone heals more quickly. For older adults or those who have an underlying health condition, such as diabetes, it would take some longer time to see the signs a broken bone is healing and for the bone to heal properly.
Now, let’s take you through the healing process when the bone fractures.
There are mainly 3 stages for bone healing: The inflammatory Stage, The Reparative Stage, and The Remodelling Stage.
Let’s go in detail through each stage, phase by phase.
1. The Inflammatory Stage
Hematoma Formation Phase
This process takes place in the body during the first 5 days after the injury.
This phase immediately begins following the fracture. The blood vessels supplying the bone and periosteum (the membrane that covers the outer surface of all bones) are ruptured during the fracture, causing a hematoma to form around the fracture site.
The hematoma clots and forms the temporary frame for subsequent healing. The injury to the bone results in the secretion of pro-inflammatory cytokines like tumor necrosis factor-alpha, bone morphogenetic proteins, and interleukins.
These cytokines act to stimulate essential cellular biology at the site, attracting macrophages, monocytes, and lymphocytes.
These cells act together to remove damaged, necrotic tissue and secrete cytokines like vascular endothelial growth factor to stimulate healing at the site.
This is the first bridge between the pieces of the fractured bone.
The inflammation process takes a few fewer days than the hematoma phase.
These two processes together are called the inflammatory stage, which takes approximately a week after the fracture.
2. The Reparative Stage
- This stage starts within about a week after the injury. A soft callus (collagen-rich bone tissue that’s soft at first but hardens over time.) replaces the blood clot that formed in the inflammatory stage. The callus holds the bone together but isn’t strong enough for the body part to be used.
- A soft callus is organized and remodeled into a hard callus over several weeks. A soft callus is plastic and can easily deform or bend if the fracture is not adequately supported.
- A hard callus is weaker than normal bone but is better able to withstand external forces and equates to the stage of “clinical union”, i.e. the fracture is not tender to palpation or with movement.
- By about 2–6 weeks, this hard callus is strong enough for the body part to be used.
3. The Remodelling Stage
- This is the final phase of bone healing, which usually goes on for several months.
- In remodeling, the bone continues to form and becomes compact, returning to its original shape. In addition, blood flow in the area improves.
- Once adequate bone healing has occurred, weight-bearing (such as standing or walking) encourages bone remodeling.
- The remodeling stage starts around 6 weeks after the injury. During this stage, regular bone replaces the hard callus. If you saw an X-ray of the healing bone, it would look uneven. But over the next few months, the bone is reshaped so that it goes back to looking the way it did before the injury.
4. The Recovery Stage
- After just a few weeks without movement, the connective tissues and muscles start to get weak and stiff, and the muscles lose strength.
- Once the bone is adequately healed, physical therapy often plays a key role in rehabilitation.
- You may also lose bone mass, which is when physical therapy is recommended. This is also the time when you start some very basic exercises, as it helps ease stiffness, build muscle, and break down scar tissue.
- You may also get your head around moving this part of your body that’s been in pain for a while. An exercise program can help in regaining strength and balance and can assist in returning to normal activities, and thus start showing signs a broken bone is healing.
Broken bones usually take a varying amount of time to heal, mostly depending on the types of fractures and their severity, so it might take time in some cases to see the signs a broken bone is healing.
Keeping in mind these phases and what you should feel as you go through them can help you spot any abnormalities or complications early, so your doctor can deal with them right away.
- As the broken toe is healing, it might start to itch. This is due to your body releasing histamines to the area during the inflammatory phase of healing. Just think of this as a signal that your body is in the process of remodeling your broken toe.
- Having had a previous break won’t protect you from breaking the same bone again if you happen to experience trauma to the same body part. Once your broken bone heals fully, it should be just as strong as the rest of your bones, so you won’t be more or less likely to break it than another bone.
- Symptoms of a fracture that is not healing normally include tenderness, swelling, and aching pain that may be felt deep within the affected bone. Often, the bone isn’t strong enough to bear weight, and you may not be able to use the affected body part until the bone heals.