Molly S. Judge DPM, FACFAS
All broken bones go through the same healing process. This is true whether a bone has been cut as part of a surgical procedure or fractured through an injury.
The bone healing process has three overlapping stages: inflammation, bone production, and bone remodeling.
Bone remodeling, the final phase of bone healing, goes on for several months. In remodeling, bone continues to form and becomes compact, returning to its original shape. In addition, blood circulation in the area improves.
Once adequate bone healing has occurred, weight bearing (such as standing or walking) encourages bone remodeling.
Bone healing is a complex process. Speed and success differ among individuals. The time required for bone healing can be affected by many factors, including the type of fracture and the patient's age, underlying medical conditions, and nutritional status.
Bone generally takes 6 to 8 weeks to heal to a significant degree. In general, children's bones heal faster than those of adults. The foot and ankle surgeon will determine when the patient is ready to bear weight on the area. This will depend on the location and severity of the fracture, the type of injury or surgical procedure performed and the x-ray appearance among other things.
If a bone will be cut during a planned surgical procedure, some steps can be taken pre-and post-operatively to help optimize healing. The surgeon may offer advice on diet and nutritional supplements that are essential to bone growth. Smoking cessation and adequate control of blood sugar levels in diabetics are important. Smoking and high glucose levels interfere with bone healing.
For all patients with fractured bones, immobilization is a critical part of treatment, because any movement of bone fragments slows down the initial healing process. Depending on the type of fracture or surgical procedure, the surgeon may use some form of fixation (such as screws, plates, or wires) on the fractured bone and/or a cast to keep the bone from moving. During the immobilization period, weight-bearing is restricted as instructed by the surgeon.
Once the bone is adequately healed, physical therapy often plays a key role in rehabilitation. An exercise program designed for the patient can help in regaining strength and balance and assist in returning to normal activities.
If the bone is not healing as well as expected or fails to heal, the foot and ankle surgeon can choose from a variety of treatment options to enhance the growth of bone, such as continued immobilization for a longer period, bone stimulation, or surgery with bone grafting or use of bone growth proteins. There are a wide variety of bone stimulation options available today.
If you or someone you know has a problem with bone healing in the lower extremities (the foot and ankle) then an in-office consultation will be helpful. With a detailed review of the case treatment counseling can provide the education you need to make important decisions for the future.