Why is this on my mind? Because yours truly, broke her foot last September. So, for this column, I am thinking about how do I (and you!) keep our bones healthy all year long? And if we break one, how can we minimize down time and maximize healing time.
While I pride myself on being as healthy as I can be (while still having some fun!) I was really taken down a notch when I tripped over a pile of sticks my sweet doggy Ella left in my path. I tumbled over and cracked the 5th metatarsal in my left foot. I’ve come to know that this is a very common break. My research into healing this bone uncovered some fascinating information that I want to share with you. This column is not only how to heal, but how to maintain, restore and boost healthy bones.
There are so many variables when you break a bone including location of break, your age and overall health, your exercise-level or lack there-of before the break, and the kind of life-style you lead. Some breaks will require surgery and even screws or pins. But often the bones go through their own magical healing process. Basically, when a bone does break, the body goes through three healing phases.
When you hear that crack and you know you have broken a bone, your body reacts by immediately protecting the area in the form of a blood clot, which can leave a bruise lasting 4-6 weeks. This creates inflammation, which in this case, is a good thing. The rush of blood to the area helps to clean up and begin to repair the site. Right away the amazing healing process begins as those cells get ready to create new bone tissue (osteoblasts) and new cartilage (chondroblasts). As I have seen in my own x-rays, these cells begin to form a matrix over weeks and months, made up of bone and cartilage.
Next, about two weeks into the recovery, soft callus is formed by proteins from the osteoblasts and chondroblasts, which is the beginning of your new bone. Overtime (depending on the severity of the break), usually 6 – 12 weeks, this new bone begins to harden.
The next phase is called the remodeling phase. As the cell matrix and callus grows it weaves its way into stronger bone, using osteoblast bone formation cells and osteoclast bone resorption cells. (see www.betterbones.com). Within two to three months, a bone, hard, solid and ready to roll, is formed.
One of my immediate thoughts was oh no – how will I exercise? I was so concerned about weight gain, but I discovered an interesting fact that the body actually needs more calories to repair itself and the bone (phew). Some studies cite that one needs to consume nearly three times as many calories as normal. An active adult needs around 2,500 calories a day, an injured person with multiple fractures who may be confined to a bed or wheelchair, may need as much as 6,000 calories per day. How those calories are consumed is extremely important. Snickers bars, pizza and beer - while they can add up to 6000 calories a day - will not help you heal. If nutrition and adequate food is not consumed, the healing process may be compromised. Note that smoking and drinking excessive amounts of alcohol will inhibit circulation, greatly slowly down the healing process. If you smoke or drink, there is no better time to quit than when your body needs to repair itself.
While I didn’t go the 6,000 calorie route, I began increasing protein, using shakes, broth and more beans. Here are some ideas you can incorporate through food, supplements, exercise and positivity, into your life in order to speed up the healing process. (Please check with your doctor before employing any of these healing methods)
- Eat a lot protein. About ½ of bone structure is protein, so adding a protein supplement to your diet can help to repair the break faster. There are several studies that show even a 10 – 20 gram increase in protein can help. Try using a vegan protein powder, adding another cup of beans to your diet, or sipping a cup of warm bone broth (will add more healing collagen to your body as well) several times a day.
- Avoid NSAIDs – non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines, such as ibuprofen, aspirin and naproxen - in the initial healing phase. These reduce inflammation when your body actually needs it to promote the natural process of healing. Chose acetaminophen (Tylenol) instead. But NEVER drink while taking this as this can tax the liver causing serious illness. Using supplements like Vitamin C and the flavonoid Quercitin (also great for allergies) has been shown to reduce pain and inflammation without compromising the process of healing.
- Eat anti-inflammatory food, Omega 3 fatty acids, and add Vitamin E for collagen repair, and Vitamin C, lycopene, and alpha-lipoic acid which can support tissue and bone growth through anti-oxidant activity. Consume food high in calcium as well, such as sea vegetables, leafy greens, salmon, sardines with bones, and unsweetened cultured dairy like plain whole milk yogurt, and plain whole milk kefir. Foods high in Vitamin C include fruits and vegetables such as citrus fruits, bell peppers, strawberries, and tomatoes.
- Make sure you are getting enough minerals in your diet through food or supplements. Those most beneficial to healing bones include: calcium, copper, phosphorus, silicon and zinc. Zinc is necessary to rebuild the bone. Foods that include a lot of zinc are beef, pumpkin seeds, and spinach.
- Make sure to get enough magnesium as well, as this is required for bone formation. Foods containing magnesium include dark chocolate (yeah!); almonds, avocados, black beans, figs, plain yogurt and kefir, chard, spinach, salmon, cashews, and bananas.
- Vitamin D3 may be the most important supplement you can take. Better yet – sit in the sun and absorb it naturally. Vitamin D literally builds healthy bones. In combination with calcium, C and zinc you will absorb and assimilate the best combination needed for healing. Add Vitamin K and B vitamins to maximize the process. Foods high in Vitamin K include kale, broccoli, spinach, and other greens, and raw dairy products like cheese and kefir are high in vitamin K2.
- Move. After your initial rest, ice, and elevate stage, you’ve got to get moving in order to heal. The body relies on blood circulation and flow to increase energy and speed up the healing process. Always check with your doctor, but as soon as they give the ok, begin the process of moving the foot, ankle, wrist, arm – whatever it is that you broke. Range of motion exercises, simple back and forth motions, and stretching can help. For the parts of your body that are not injured, try to create a daily routine of movement. Get some hand weights, sit in a chair and do seated jumping jacks with your arms, circles backwards and forwards, arm lifts, etc. Lay on a bed or sofa and do bicycles with your feet, one way then in reverse. You can do seated twists and side stretches too. Check out this series of workouts, with a broken foot boot:
Energy medicine such as Reiki, and Acupuncture are extremely beneficial as well. You can also try some Ayurvedic remedies including oil massage with special oils that promote bone growth, such as Murivenna oil. This Ayurvedic medicine is used for healing difficult-to-heal wounds, fractures and sprains. You can apply it two times a day, using a light massage, for about five minutes. Afterwards you can either rinse off, or leave on as desired.
Essential Oils for Broken Bones include topical application of fir needle oil, cyprus oil and helichrysum oil. You can make a blend by taking 10 drops of each oil in 2 ounces of jojoba oil or sesame seed oil and apply directly to the fracture two or three times a day.
Any type of massage is good for the fractured area. Just be gentle, but you will help to promote healing by increasing blood flow and moving toxins out of the area.
Other ayurvedic remedies in the form of powders and tablets include Praval Pishti, which comes from coral. Lakshadi Guggul is a very popular and widely used tablet for healing bone fractures and bone-related diseases. See an Ayurvedic practitioner for individual dosage and usage.
What not to do? Stay away from sugar, alcohol (which is basically sugar), smoking, too much salt, processed foods, soda, and caffeine (sorry). Be aware that all of these foods can weaken bones. It’s good to reduce or avoid these foods and drinks, in general, at all times.
Don’t let a broken bone set you back nutritionally and physically for months and months. Try to find the silver lining and increase your intake of healthy foods, use your down time to meditate, learn a new skill like painting or piano, take time to rest and heal, try not to push yourself too hard, yet move around and avoid being sedentary. If you are confined to the home, invite friends over for a potluck. Watch funny movies. Call or write to people you haven’t been in touch with for a while. Use visualization to imagine bones mending and the body healing. Listen to guided meditations.
If you can get out of the house, be sure to do activities that bring you pleasure, such as being in nature, visiting friends or family, or just sitting in a café. Follow your doctor’s advice about using crutches, being in a boot or sling, or wheel chair. Use a walker or cane as needed as your healing progresses.
Take the advice about foods and supplements and apply them to your daily life even if you don’t have a fracture. Healthy bones help us live longer and more productive lives.
Resources for this article include: www.draxe.com; www.betterbones.com; www.ayumedinfo.com