TLDR of how to heal a broken bone at the bottom.
Note that throughout this article I have linked to the products I use and recommend. If you click on a link and buy the product I do get a small percentage.
In light of recent events in my life, I have been forced to look more closely at bone health. Which gave rise to this article!
Britt and I were climbing and I was leading the route. It was our last climb of the day. I climbed up about 7 meters of the ground (about 20 feet) luckily not to terribly high, I had just clipped in my third quick drawn to mountain and was bringing the rope up to secure myself, just then my left hand had about enough of my shenanigans and decided to quit working. Down I went. Since I had an arm full of rope and was leading, I ended up falling about 5 meters or so (15 feet). Right at the end of the fall there was a small outcrop of rock and my toes hit it with full force. That forced my ankle into extreme dorsiflexion, inversion and there was a huge amount of axial loading. This lead to a “snowboarder’s fracture”. Basically I managed to turn my lateral talar process to dust. But not to be dismayed! Time will tell how well it heals, but there is plenty I can do to make sure that the healing process goes as smoothly as possible.
The concepts below can be used for any fracture or bone issue, including arthritis. That being said I will be doing a more comprehensive article on how to treat arthritis later. In this article I will be detailing what to do in the first eight weeks that EXCLUDES manual therapy. The reason for this is every specific injury requires some specific techniques. Eventually I will have more specific injuries and how to treat them in the chronic phase.
Whenever treating any condition, always remember that the body is a fully holistic organism. The ankle bone is connected to the knee bone and all of that stuff. So with that in mind we need to take a holistic approach. Depending on if you are reading this article for personal use, or if you are a therapist there may be some limitations in being able to prescribe supplements, but if that is the case, refer your client to this post and they will have all they need!
After a fracture there are 3 main phases of healing: inflammatory phase, repair phase and remodeling phase. It usually takes a good 6 weeks to get into the remodeling phase, children get there much faster. During the first 6-8 weeks we are mostly concerned with inflammation and making sure the body has all the resources it needs to repair the injured site. Whenever I treat a patient (or myself for that matter) I try to look at it from all possible perspectives so in this article I will cover what we can do for the injured area, the compensated area, the mind, what you can take for foods, herbs and supplements to help heal, and to cover all the bases what we can do energetically as well.
The Site of Injury
During the inflammation phase the best bet is to treat conservatively. What that means is don’t rush! Your body knows what to do, we just need to help it. If it hurts to walk then don’t walk. I myself am in a non weight bearing cast. As an incredibly active individual this first part is really hard to follow, but truly just take it easy.
If you have a cast on then there is not much to do for herbs topically, however if you have an air cast, splint or bandage then start using topical herbs ASAP.
Arnica is a go to in the realm of homeopathy. You can either take in as a herb, apply it topically or both. If you take in orally then make sure to get 200c. A typical 30c is not quite strong enough. I usually recommend using Traumeel (*Edit: it was recently renamed Traumacare. Thanks Crystal), it is a brand of topical ointment that has arnica in it. That being said, any good arnica gel will work
You can also apply most over the counter topical creams such as Tiger Balm. This doesn’t actually help the healing process but is considered a “counter irritant”. Basically it utilizes a physiological principle called pain gating. If you can send any signal to the brain that is stronger than the pain signal, your brain will focus more on the stronger stimuli. In this case the sensation on the skin that the ointment provides.
The last is a Traditional Chinese Medicine formula called San Qi. You may have to go to an acupuncturist or TCMD to get it, but it does help with tissue regeneration. You can take San Qi orally as well.
Treating the Compensating Areas
As far as treating the body within the first 2 months, this is an incredibly important part. Whenever we Injury ourselves, other areas in the body will naturally compensate for the injured area, much to their detriment. Identifying compensating areas is pretty easy. Just ask yourself (or client) “where do I feel tension?” If the answer is “everywhere” then you are in for a not so fun few weeks. Your body has taken a real beating. But treat the same nonetheless. More often than not it is pretty obvious and is usually limited to 2 or 3 main areas.
Make sure to treat yo self!
Once you have identified the areas, massage is in order! Self massage works great, nothing beats going to a good therapist though. When recovering, this is the time to really invest in your health. If you can’t usually afford it, then this is the time to bust into your rainy day savings. Trust me, the first 8 weeks are very important. Make sure you treat yo self!
More on Treating the Body
Often when we get injured, we tend to slip into a bit of a physical rut. It hurts to do the things we used to do. But that being said, it is still VERY important to exercise. I recommend swimming, or at least being in a pool. If you have the choice make sure you get a waterproof cast, this makes life way better. That being said, make sure to also run it past your doctor or surgeon first.
Remember, don’t over do it. Your body is using a tremendous amount of energy and resources to heal, so if you are tired honor that and take a break. But if you keep up with nutrition (see below) you will have all the resources you need.
Nutrition for A Broken Bone
After treating the compensating area, nutrition is the most important thing. In fact, nutrition might be even more important! Without proper nutrition when healing it is hard to heal properly. I break nutrition down into diet, herbs and supplements. I believe that when healing all are required.
Diet for a Broken Bone
Adding foods to our diet is one of the easiest, cheapest and healthiest ways to give our body everything it needs to heal. When it comes to what you add it boils down to a few main foods:
- Leafy green veggies
- Keifer or yogurt
- Salmon, sardines and oysters
- Citrus fruits
- Sea vegetables
- Bone broth soups.
As for why the each of the “active ingredients” is good for healing, I will cover it all in the supplements section below.
Leafy greens is always the place to start. I go on endlessly about leafy greens, and for good reason. The contain vitamin C, calcium, magnesium and small amounts of vitamin K and C.
Citrus fruits is the most reliable source of vitamin C. That being said, monitor your intake because the tend to be very high in sugar. One of my all time favorite natural sources of vitamin C is camu camu. It is the most bio-available and potent natural source.
Adding a good quality kefir or yogurt is also super helpful. These fermented dairy foods contain high amounts of calcium and vitamin K.
Salmon and sardines are high in protein, Omega-3 fatty acids as well as calcium. Oysters have some of the highest amounts of zinc making them much more potent and way healthier than supplementary forms of zinc. If you don’t like oysters or are allergic, no worries just add pumpkin seeds to your salad and eat more spinach!
A healthy source of protein is also important. I prefer high quality organic beef, but any good source is better than none. If you are vegetarian or vegan I will over some good supplements below.
Bone broth is an essential in a health diet, but even more so when healing. There is a good reason why you Grandma gave your chicken noodle soup when you were young (mind you the stuff from a box is just plain bad for you). Broth has been known for a very long time to be required for health. As far as what bone broth supplies you, it contains valuable minerals in a form your body can easily absorb and use, including calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, silicon, sulfur chondroitin, glucosamine, and a variety of trace minerals. Bone broth really is amazing and it does much more than I have listed here. Everything it does provide is required for bone health and healing.
Foods to avoid
Of course there are the foods to avoid as well. The list has all the usual suspects on it: sugar, alcohol, soda (and other sweetened beverages, and caffeine. Each works on a different mechanism, but basically they all impede the healing process in one way or another.
Supplements to Heal A Broken Bone
I am more of a fan of eating a well balanced diet of whole foods, however when dealing with injury or sub healthy conditions supplements are amazing. There are a number I recommend:
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin K
- Omega-3 fatty acids
- A good multi-vitamin
- Green supplement
- Protein (conditionally)
For me, this is way more supplements than I am happy taking, but even with a healthy diet, I like to make sure I have all my nutritional bases covered. Let’s go through why each is needed.
Calcium and magnesium
Calcium and magnesium work together and are essential for bone health and maintenance. When you are in the repair phase of healing, your body is using a TON of calcium to repair the fracture. If you don’t have enough in your system, your body will take it from anywhere it can get it, usually healthy bones and muscles. You need magnesium to make sure you absorb the calcium properly. Most of the time the ratio is 3:1 calcium to magnesium, however 1:1 ration is also great. Often times a cal/mag supplement will also have vitamin D3, typically it is in super low doses though.
Vitamin D3 (link one is the best brand but expensive, link two is a good brand but cheaper) is very important for bone healing, and bone health in general. It is important to know that vitamin D3 is not that useful by itself, we require sunshine to turn vitamin D3 into a usable form. Vitamin D is required for the absorption and utilization of calcium and phosphorus. As far as dosage goes, my rule in general in 1000IU per 25kg of body weight, but that being said adding a few 1000IU extra won’t hurt for the 8 weeks of healing. Try to get a natural form, but really any form will be better than none.
Vitamin C is mostly known as an immune booster, which it is, but it also helps with bone health to a rather large degree. It is a major player in tissue growth and repair. There is some debate as to how effective supplementary forms of vitamin C are, so I usually recommend an Ester-C. This is a vitamin C that has been “etherized”. It makes it more bioavailable. That being said, any vitamin C is still better than none, expect chewable they are worse. Chewable vitamin C is usually full of sugar and also wears away enamel on your teeth.
Vitamin K is important again for bone health, but also for proper immune function. It works with calcium to form something called osteocalcin. This helps the calcium become nice and hard. I don’t recommend taking a dedicated vitamin K supplement, just eat leafy greens.
Zinc is nice to have, but honestly I would not supplement it. You will get more than enough if you add a few of the foods discuss above. It’s main function is to help calcium be absorbed. If you have cal/mag you can probably forgo zinc with no issues.
Glucosamine, chondroitin and MSM are all supplements that work to maintain cartilage. They don’t really help you heal the broken bone any faster, but they make sure that the compensating joints are well maintained while they take on extra work.
Omega-3 fatty acids are not essential, but they sure help. The main role they play is to help control inflammation. During the inflammatory phase inflammation is good, but beyond that it can be a hindrance. Omega-3 (and in fact all herbal and natural supplements that control inflammation) will not reduce the inflammation that is required for your body, it will simply regulate it. Not only that but Omega-3 falls in my list of most important supplements to take every day. The link above is from Nordic Naturals. I like the product, but just as importantly I like the company. The are ethical! Whenever consuming animal products, remember to be an ecotarian.
A good multi-vitamin is a good idea as well. It picks up the slack where your diet is lacking. I don’t usually take or recommend a multi, I am more of a fan of using food. But, as I mentioned before when healing we need all the help we can get! The one I use and typically recommend is called Active X (for men and women). It has a bit more in it than just vitamins and minerals.
The last things I recommend, and this is also on that list of things to take every day, is a greens supplement. I personally use GenEssesntials, but the best one I have found is called “Athletic Greens“. I would take it but it is only availed online. While on the road it is really hard to get things shipped to you. The reason I recommend a greens supplement is they contain all of the foods, vitamins and minerals I have talked about and a bunch more I have not. For overall health and vitality, a greens supplement is one of the best things you can take.
If you are a vegetarian or vegan, you need to make sure you are always up on your protein, even more so when you are healing. Bones are not composed of protein, but all the other tissue that you damaged are! When you break a bone, there is nil chance that you only injured your bones. All the surrounding soft tissue will be damages as well, it is protein and amino acids (found in protein) that helps them heal. There are plenty of ethical good quality vegan and vegetarian protein supplements out there, the one I use and recommend is Vega One.
Herbs to Heal a Broken Bone
This list is super short.
Symphytum is a homeopathic herbs. It works wonders in speeding up the rate bones heal. If you are going to take symphytum, wait until after you know if you need to have any bones put back in place. It really does work that fast!
I mentioned arnica already. It helps with all forms of tissue regeneration. Remember to take 200c.
Turmeric is the last herb I recommend. It is quite possibly the most powerful natural anti-inflammatory there is. Don’t take it within the first few days, it won’t help much. I suggest 1 tbsp in hot water and drink it back. Watch out, its bitter!
This is one of the more important parts of healing. No matter what your level of physical activity before a major injury, you can be sure that it will be affected when you are injured. This, for some people, is worse than the pain. When one moment you are fit and can do anything and the next you are suddenly hardly able to walk to the bathroom, it can do a number on your mental state. Being mindful of your mental state when injured is incredibly important.
In comparison to many, having a fractured talus in minor. So coming from a person with a broken talus this may not mean much. On the other hand, coming from a integrative doctor who has treated many a broken bone, trust me when I say it gets better. The thought of never being back to your pre-injury state lurks in your mind I am sure, but stop it! Dwelling on what may or may not be is never a good thing.
I have already been told my 3 surgeons that my ankle will always be a problem, and it is a very serious break. That may be true, but it also may not be. There is validity to the power of focusing on the good possibility instead of the bad. At the very least it keeps you from getting to worked up about it all. There are quite a number of exercises that can be done to help, but the best I have found is meditation.
Meditation allows you to relax into your own reality. It is both a contemplative state and a mentally relaxed state. While you are meditating there are a few things to try, I’ll talk about these next.
This is where it gets a little more esoteric. I struggle endlessly with the validation of energetic medicines and healing techniques. I am very scientific minded, so if there is no mechanism by which I can understand how something works, it is very hard for me to get on board. But there comes a point when eventually you have to accept what is happening in front of you. After seeing a nearly endless amount of positive results from reiki, meditation, and creative imagery I can not help but accept that they really do make a measureable difference in the healing process.
I will not being going into theories of how any of these techniques work, but I will recommend trying them all. None of these technique will make you any worse off that is for sure, and there is a pretty good chance that they will in fact make a profound difference. Just make sure that you keep an open mind, and if you choose to try any of them out, you really must commit. Not “try” skeptically but jump in with both feet. “You gotta believe Peter!”
Reiki can either be done by a practitioner or yourself. If you are a therapist why not give it a shot on your client. No harm, no foul.
There are many reiki courses out there, and I have taken a few. I have discovered something: anyone and everyone can do it. There really is no need for special certification (in my opinion). The worst damage that can be done is you convince either yourself or your client that reiki is all you need. In my opinion in is a part of a treatment protocol.
The basic method is to simply focus with all your will and intention on sending energy to the area that needs work. That’s it. Now if there are any reiki masters reading this, I am sorry for the gross simplification. But what I lack in description I make up for in intent.
This can be done during meditation. With each breath simply imagine a healing ball of energy going from your belly to the injured area. Then imagine it healing area. THis sounds like, and in fact is, quite similar to creative imagery. There are a few differences however.
If you have ever sat through my psych lectures you know how excited I get about teaching creative imagery. The most powerful tool humans have is not opposable thumbs, it’s the imagination!
There have been countless studies done proving how what we think affects our body. The most easy to understand is the placebo effect. We know with certainty that a fake pill can elicit a therapeutic response. We can take this to the next level and recognize that it is the mind that is doing the healing. And one of the best ways to utilize this tool is to imagine it is doing it!
Again, this is most easily done while meditating. All you have to do is just imagine the area healing. But wait, there’s more!
The added healing may or may not be there, but what is for sure is creative imagery can decrease your rehab time. When in a cast, or when any muscle has reduced mobility, it takes a very short amount of time for that muscle to begin to atrophy. However we know that by imagining that you are using that limb stimulates the motor cortex in the exact same way as actually using that limb. This does two amazing things. First it make sure we don’t have a dramatic decrease in our proprioception (knowing where we are in space), but we also now know that we fire the muscles involved in the action very slightly, which keeps them activating and much healthier.
A broken bone sucks, no question. The good thing is there is a lot that we can do to heal quickly and reduce possible complications. An added bonus is, all of the methods I have mentioned will also make you stronger in general, potentially preventing injury in the future.
For those of you who want to get to the point, here it is:
- Eat more leafy green veggies
- Take Omega-3
- Take the supplements listed above
- Meditate and use creative imagery
- Don’t rush it, but don’t slack off. You have to work every day at this