Bones can be broken or fractured by traumatic events like sports injuries and motor vehicle accidents or by pathological conditions like osteoporosis and cancer. Regardless of the specific cause, symptoms of bone fractures include pain, swelling and a deformity which may be associated with bleeding if the bone fragments penetrate the skin.
Broken bones generally take from 4 to 8 weeks to heal and this duration depends on factors like the age of the patient, their nutritional status and the type of fracture sustained.
The healing of broken bones is a complex process which begins when bleeding into the injured area from the bone fragments results in the formation of blood clots. These clots, which develop on the ends of the broken bones, form a mesh on which the new bone will be formed.
Stem cells are then brought to the injury site and they develop into fibroblasts, which produce the fibrous tissue and cartilage that forms the soft callus, which joins the two ends of the bone. With time, this soft callus is replaced by bone tissue as minerals like calcium and phosphate are added and it becomes a hard callus.
The final step in the bone healing process is the remodeling phase in which the bone becomes more compact and assumes its original shape.
Immobilization is vital for broken bones to heal since movement slows the process. Patients are therefore treated by setting the fractured bones in a plaster cast or by surgical immobilization with plates and pins.
After the bones have adequately healed, the cast or plates are removed and physical therapy is introduced. This usually involves an exercise program to rehabilitate the limb and help it regain strength and balance. Gentle weight bearing exercises are included in this program to help with the bone remodeling process, which may continue for several months.
Written by: Marian Kim, FizzNiche Staff Writer