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How Broken Bones Heal

Broken bones have an amazing ability to heal, especially in children. New bone forms within a few weeks of the injury, although full healing can take longer.

What Happens as Broken Bones Heal?

There are three stages of bone healing: the inflammatory, reparative, and remodeling stages.

The Inflammatory Stage

When a bone breaks, the body sends out signals for special cells to come to the injured area. Some of these special cells cause the injured area to become inflamed (red, swollen, and painful). This tells the body to stop using the injured part so it can heal.

Other cells that come to the area during this stage form a (blood clot) around the broken bone. This is the first bridge between the pieces of the broken bone.

The Reparative Stage

The reparative stage starts within about a week of the injury. A soft (a type of soft bone) replaces the blood clot that formed in the inflammatory stage. The callus holds the bone together, but isn't strong enough for the body part to be used.

Over the next few weeks, the soft callus becomes harder. By about 2–6 weeks, this hard callus is strong enough for the body part to be used.

The Remodeling Stage

The remodeling stage starts around 6 weeks after the injury. In this stage, regular bone replaces the hard callus. If you saw an X-ray of the healing bone, it would look uneven. But over the next few months, the bone is reshaped so that it goes back to looking the way it did before the injury.

How Do Casts and Splints Help Broken Bones Heal?

Casts and splints can hold broken bones in place while they heal. New hard bone forms in about 3–6 weeks, and the cast or splint usually can come off.

What Can Affect Bone Healing?

A bone might not heal as well if someone:

  • has a severe break
  • has damage to the muscles, skin, and nerves in the area of the broken bone
  • has a vitamin deficiency
  • has a medical condition such as osteoporosis, osteogenesis imperfecta, diabetes, or anemia
  • takes certain medicines (such as corticosteroids)
  • drinks alcohol
  • smokes cigarettes

How Can I Help My Child?

To help your child recover from a broken bone, make sure that he or she:

  • eats a healthy diet that includes plenty of calcium and vitamin D
  • takes good care of the cast or splint
  • follows the health care provider's directions for rest and/or doing any exercises
  • goes to all follow-up appointments

Looking Ahead

A broken bone is a common, treatable childhood injury. Most breaks heal well, and kids can get back to all the activities they enjoyed before the injury.

Date reviewed: May 2018