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How Broken Bones Heal

How Broken Bones Heal

From accidents to sports to diseases that can weaken bones, fractures can happen in many ways and many places. While bones are naturally strong, impact can cause them to break or bleed when we push their limits — and sometimes, certain health conditions can cause bones to be more fragile than usual and break more easily.
x-ray of foot

When it comes to discovering how a bone is broken, why it happened and how broken bones heal, here’s everything you need to know.

What Causes a Broken Bone?

A broken bone — also referred to as a fracture — occurs when too much pressure or a strong force of impact is too much for your bone to withstand and causes it to shatter, snap, or break. While some fractures simply cause a crack in the bone, others may break the bone completely in one or various places. Depending on the force of impact and the circumstances of the injury, fractures will vary in type.

While bones most commonly break during accidents or while playing sports — resulting from a strong impact — sometimes, fractures occur as a result of conditions like cancer or osteoporosis, which weaken the bones and make them more susceptible to breaking when exposed to less impact than is normally dangerous. For example, cancer patients and people with osteoporosis might risk breaking a bone just by tripping and falling.

Types of Bone Fractures

Bone fractures can occur in a variety of different breaks. Here are the various terms doctors use to classify broken bones:

  • Open or closed: A closed break — also called a simple fracture — doesn’t puncture through the skin, while an open — or compound — fracture does.
  • Partial or complete: A partial break means the fracture doesn’t go all the way through the bone, while a complete break severs the bone into two or more pieces.
  • Displaced or non-displaced: When the broken pieces of a complete break still line up, the fracture is non-displaced. If they don’t, the break is displaced.

How Do Broken Bones Heal?

When a bone breaks, the body has a natural response to facilitate healing, although some serious fractures may require the attention of a doctor for treatments involving splints, casts or even surgery. The process of bone fracture healing begins just a few hours after the break occurs. Here are the steps involved:

  • First, the area around the break starts to swell as the blood clot begins to form, and the immune system will go into overdrive to remove small shards of bone and eliminate germs from the area. More blood vessels may also grow around the break to assist healing in the first week or two.
  • From a few days to a few weeks after the fracture occurs, a substance called collagen will begin to collect around the break, forming a stiff callus to help hold the bone in place as it heals.
  • Roughly two weeks after the break, osteoblast cells move in to form new bone with minerals and bridge the break in a phase known as the hard callus, which can last six to 12 weeks following the fracture.
  • Finally, osteoclast cells work on bone remodeling to return the broken bone to its original shape. While broken bone healing time depends on the type of fracture and the age of the patient, it can last anywhere from three to 10 weeks.

How X-Rays Can Detect Breaks and Help Bone Fracture Healing

When it comes to determining the type and severity of a fracture to determine the best treatment, X-rays or CT scans are necessary for detecting and understanding the break. If you need reliable, compassionate imaging for a broken bone, Adams Diagnostic Imaging (ADI) is here to help. Contact ADI today for more information or to schedule an appointment.