Broken bones (or fractures) are a common occurrence in the United States, with over 7.9 million cases of broken bones per year. Fractures usually happen during a physically traumatic event such as a car crash or a fall. The most common broken bones are the clavicle (collarbone), arm, wrist, hip, ankle, foot, toe, hand, finger, and leg. Collarbone fractures happen most frequently during sporting events but are also common in car accidents, while arm fractures happen mostly after falling from a height. No matter what bone you break, we can all agree that it’s no fun.
But if you don’t like spending weeks or months in a cast, there are ways to reduce your recovery time and get those bandages off sooner.
Stop smoking. If you smoke, consider quitting–at least while your broken bone is healing. Patients who smoke have a much longer recovery time than non-smokers. The small vessels that supply your skin, muscles, and bones are all constricted from the effects of the nicotine. This results in decreased blood flow which is essential for healthy recovery and bony healing. In addition, the supply of oxygen – a key ingredient to cell and bone regeneration – is also decreased in smokers as less oxygen exchange is occurring in the lungs. Finally, smokers are at much higher risk of nonunion, the inability for the two bone ends to heal, which could result in permanent disability, multiple surgeries, and infection. The good news is that stopping smoking for at least 3 weeks brings most of these normal body functions to near normal levels, greatly improving your chances for successful healing, so stop smoking now! Smoking also decreases blood flow to the bones, and without adequate blood flow, your bones take longer to heal.
Eat well. During recovery from a fracture, the body needs more nutrients than it did prior to the event. Eating a balanced diet that includes all food groups will ensure that you speed up your healing time. Many patients may also be placed on pain medication to help with the pain associated with your fracture and therefore are at risk of developing constipation. A fiber rich diet can be helpful to combat this common complication.
Get enough calcium and vitamin D. Calcium is vital in building strong and healthy bones and vitamin D helps your body absorb that important mineral from the food you eat. That’s why milk is given to children from a young age, so their bones will develop properly during childhood. But if you’re suffering from a fracture, you don’t need to consume calcium in excess. Just stick to the recommended daily dose, which changes with age and is gender-specific: Men aged 19 to 70 should consume around 1000 mg of calcium daily and the same goes for women aged 19 to 50. For vitamin D, getting outdoors in direct sunlight for 30-60 minutes each day typically allows our bodies to produce sufficient amounts to absorb the calcium through our gut.
Consume more nutrients and minerals. Anti-inflammatory vitamins such as Vitamin C and E reduce inflammation and help you heal faster. Minerals can also be a part of your diet–zinc, for example, enhances bone protein production, while copper helps form new bone collagen, and silicon boosts the effects of calcium for bone health.
Listen to your doctor. Your doctor usually knows what’s best for you. Your doctor will help you develop a treatment plan that may include having you wear a cast, use crutches, or even undergo surgery. If you do end up having to wear a cast, do not remove it before your doctor tells you to do so, or your recovery time may be severely delayed.
If you do all the things listed above, you can ensure that you recover quickly and without complications.
Dr. Matthew Russo
Dr. Russo is a third-generation orthopedic surgeon in Scottsdale, AZ specializing in total hip and knee replacement surgery. He feels very grateful to have the opportunity to serve the Phoenix community as an orthopedic surgeon, just as his father and grandfather have done, for over 30 years.