Fracture Recovery

Bad news, you have fractured a bone and the doctor has told you it will be 6-8 weeks in plaster, maybe more.  You are given a pair of crutches, maybe got to choose the cast colour and are sent on your way, in pain, uncomfortable and suddenly realising everything that you now are unable to do, and how much is going to have to change for the near future.

What is the most important thing is recovering, and recovering quickly and stronger, without being completely bored out of your mind.  Well the good news is that fracture recovery doesn’t have to be boring or complicated or take too long, if the right steps are taken. If you have a comminuted fracture, you can follow this to recover.  Fracture recovery doesn’t have to mean missing out on simple everyday things like showering or moving about.  I’ll explain more on other pages, but if like me, showering is your main concern then check out these waterproof cast protectors: for your arm and for your leg.

There are many pieces of equipment that can aid fracture recovery.  Crutches or a wheelchair to keep your weight off the injured leg for example, or a sling to rest an injured arm or collar bone.  Dietary changes such as increasing your calcium and magnesium intake along-side a balanced diet can make bones heal faster and stronger, reducing the chances of weakening your bones and experiencing more fractures in the future.

How does a bone heal?

Fracture recovery falls into three broad stages.  In the majority of cases, a doctor simply immobilises the fracture site in a cast and allows your body to heal itself naturally.  The three stages are as follows:

1) Reactive Stage – Your blood vessels constrict, reducing further swelling, a blood clot forms followed by granulation tissue.  This granulation tissue forms a framework bridging the gap in the fracture.  This usually occurs within 3-8 days but may take longer depending on the severity of the fracture.

2) Reparative Stage – Within 2 weeks,the granulation tissue becomes cartilage and soft callus forms.  This is soft and very fragile which is why it is so important to keep immobilised to allow the next stages of repair to take place.  Osteoblasts start to create what is known as ‘woven bone’.  This is a soft bone structure but it is the first bone contact between the two fracture ends. The next part of this stage of fracture recovery is the formation of hard callus.  Once hard callus formation is complete, fracture union is said to have occurred.  This usually takes around 6 weeks in upper limbs and 12 weeks in lower limbs.  Hard Callus formation is a complex process involving the release of mineral compounds such as Calcium and Magnesium into the woven bone, which subsequently changes into a bridge of hard callus over the fracture site.

3) Remodelling Stage – Initially, more hard callus is made by your body than there originally was.  This looks like an enlarged area of bone on an x-ray.  This will change over years and the normal shape and size of your bone will be restored.  Your bones are living tissue, they are forever changing and replacing cells, building on the stresses you place on them in everyday life.  Your bones should heal to the same strength that they were before the fracture occurred.

Fracture recovery takes time.  There is unfortunately no way for a quick fix.  However, take some of the advice in these pages, try some of the equipment and tips suggested and you will be back to your usual self in no time.

Good luck!