Broken bones — including fractures — take 6 to 8 weeks to mend, on average.
Averaged because healing times don’t always go according to plan and varying factors are involved.
Broken bones in children may heal in 3 to 5 weeks. Some fractures can take 12 weeks to heal, some even longer.
Childhood is prime time when it comes to breaking bones — especially in those between the ages of 11 and 15 years. As many as 50% of boys, and up to 40% of girls, break or fracture broken bones.
Kids will be kids, so this is not altogether unexpected. Consider also that the level of minerals needed to keep bones strong in children can be outpaced by the rate of growth in their bodies.
Vertebral or spinal fractures are experienced by 30% to 50% of people over the age of 50. Hip fractures occur less frequently, but the bad news is that 20% of people who fracture a hip, die within 6 months.
Averaging again… broken bones will happen to everybody during the course of a lifetime. Further, this average reckons it will happen not once, but twice over a lifetime.
The average, of course, is skewed by portions of the population. For example, people push the envelope in sport all the time. Before retiring from his daredevil feats in 1975, motorcycle stuntman Evel Knieval, racked up an incredible 433 fractures.
The human body has 206 bones. Given the right circumstances, any of them could break. But what are our most common broken bones?
The clavicle — aka collarbone — breaks more than any other bone. It’s in a prominent location and plays a pivotal role in attaching the arm to the body. Typically, collarbone breaks are common among children and people playing sport. A great many are also broken in car accidents.
The second-most common broken bone among children are broken arms. Of those, forearm fractures represent up to 50% of all fractures in children. It’s easy to see why — it’s a natural reaction to throw an arm out when trying to prevent impact, such as when tripping over. Which also brings us to No 3 on the list…
The wrist is the bone most commonly broken in the arm. Typically, breaking a fall can break a wrist. This is not uncommon among skateboarders and bike-riders.
Hips, especially in women over the age of 65, are frequently broken. The risks in this group are high because of brittle bones caused by calcium loss and osteoporosis.
The tell-tale signs of a broken bone include:
Sometimes a bone will poke through the skin. Or, an audible snap might be heard at the moment of injury — a “cracking” rather than “popping” sound. Even less pleasant, a grinding sound might be evident.
You can’t always count on listening out for such noises when you’re falling down the stairs or being battered by a blunt object.
You can more reliably count on feeling the pain when you try to move or put weight or pressure on the injured area.
The symptoms are similar for broken bones (fractures), strains, and sprains.
An X-ray will confirm or rule out a broken bone. The doctor can then provide appropriate treatment for recovery.
Pain is a common result. Although not for everyone.
When the fracture is only minor, pain may be insignificant to the point the person may not realise they’ve suffered a break. They could have a fall, then spend the rest of the day skiing, walking, dancing, oblivious to the reality of the damage.
For many bone breaks, it’s more often like the deep ache from a bad stomach ache or headache. Some people experience sharper pain, especially in the case of an open fracture.
Pain increases as pressure is applied or when the injury is moved. The injured limb simply cannot be used. Taking even 3 or 4 steps on the injured foot or ankle, for example, would be too painful.
There is often pain directly over the bone where there’s little or no soft tissue. Severe swelling or bruising is usually evident over the top of the bone. The area could look lopsided or deformed.
Numbness or tingling can also be present.
Breaking a bone is often a shock to the system, leaving the person feeling woozy or chilly. Some might pass out until their body adjusts to the trauma.
For some people, the shock of the injury can mask any pain, at least for the time being.
Although not always the case, according to research, people who fracture an arm, leg, spine or hip are more likely than other people to have widespread pain in their body decades later.
A broken bone will begin to repair within hours of the injury.
Swelling around the break allows for blood clotting. Your immune system helps eliminate small bone pieces and fight infection. Blood vessels also repair and aid the healing. This all happens in the first week or two.
It’s important to rest the broken bone as much as possible. Doctors will advise which exercises are recommended.
It helps to refrain from smoking and eat a healthy diet during the healing process.
A soft callus forms around the broken bone some time between day 4 and week 3. What is happening is that collagen is replacing the blood clot — not strong like bone, but certainly more firm than a clot.
This callous could be at risk and delay recovery if movement is not restricted, hence the need for a cast.
Around 2 weeks after the break, cells called osteoblasts begin forming new bone, adding minerals to strengthen the repair. This is the hard callus. The process continues for 6-12 weeks following the break.
Around weeks 6 to 8 is usually when the cast comes off. What it reveals is skin that’s pale or flaky, body hair that is darker than usual, and a recuperating body part that will have lost some muscle bulk.
Wearing a cast, while critical for healing, leads to muscles losing their vitality. Early physical therapy with basic exercise will help ease stiffness, break down scar tissue, and build muscle.
Bone remodelling takes place next. This involves cells called osteoclasts, which fine-tune the process, breaking down any extra bone that forms during healing so that bones return to their regular shape.
Resuming normal activity at this stage, aids in the healing, and it’s a stage that can continue for years after.
The doctor will want to know about the following signs:
Fractures are described in the following ways:
If you are a first responder and you suspect a broken bone in the neck or back, or you’re unsure which bone is broken, wait for a medical professional to arrive.
Do not try to move the injured person.
Moving a broken bone is not a good idea. Not only is it likely to cause pain, it could easily make the injury worse.
Cushion or support the injury with care, using towels or pillows.
ER is where the patient needs to go if a bone or joint is broken or dislocated, especially for breaks in large bones, such as the femur (thigh), pelvis, or hip, or fractures to the skull, eye socket, or dental bones.
Hospital X-ray facilities will enable proper diagnose. In hospital, all types of fractures can be set, splint, and cast.
In more serious cases, surgery is possible. Spinal fractures can benefit from better imaging by CT scan.
Once the broken bone has been set, the next step usually involves a cast. This is a tough shell capable of keeping the bone in place for a month or two until the break mends. Some casts are fibreglass or plastic. Others casts are formed by hardening bandages soaked in plaster.
Metal pins, or screws, rods and plates, can be inserted to help set larger bones that have broken in 2 or more places. Sometimes the hardware is removed after the bone has healed. Sometimes it stays in.
Traction is used in some cases to hold the bones in the right position, using a system of weights and pulleys around the hospital bed.