Eating a balanced diet helps you maintain bone health. But, contrary to what I like to think, we’re not invincible. Broken bones happen. Fractured and broken bones occur when the stress placed on them is too great. They can happen during a traumatic event like a car crash or a long fall. And they can happen over a long period of time of repeated stress without proper time to heal (stress fractures). Healing a fractured or broken bone takes a lot of energy!
The first stage in the healing process is inflammation. This increased blood flow to the site of injury signals the release of clean up cells that are then followed by cytokines that signal for repair cells to be sent in. The repair cells start creating proteins to rebuild the bone. About two weeks after the incident, you enter the reparative stage when the proteins built up by the repair cells turn into a soft, new bone substance that eventually hardens over 6-12 weeks. After the new bone has hardened, you enter the final stage of remodeling where the hard, new bone matures and strengthens.
So, don’t skimp on your meals! You might be bed ridden or unable to do the same workouts and activities you did before, but your body is still eating up energy like crazy! It’s important to give your body all the calories and nutrients it needs to repair itself!*
After a hard workout which creates little tears and weaknesses in your muscles and bones, your body uses protein to repair those little tears and weaknesses, resulting in stronger muscles and bones. It’s the same concept with a broken bone. During the healing process, ingest a little more protein than you normally would on an off day. We often think of meat when considering protein sources, but you can also find protein in non-animal products such as quinoa, chia seeds, beans, and buckwheat.
Vitamin C helps your body make collagen which is an important protein for building bone. Vitamin C is found naturally in fresh fruit, such as oranges, berries, and tomatoes, and in fresh vegetables, such as bell peppers, potatoes, beets, and spinach. Aged or heated fruits and vegetables have lost some of their Vitamin C content, so stick with the fresh, raw versions for your greatest Vitamin C gains.
Iron, like Vitamin C, helps your body make collagen for rebuilding bone. Iron also plays a role in getting oxygen into your bones to help them heal. Iron is naturally found in red and dark meats, oily fish, leafy green vegetables, and whole-grain breads.
For years, milk commercials have been telling us that we need to drink more and more milk for strong bones. But too much dairy in your diet can lead to other issues, like chronic digestive issues, obesity, increased risk of cardiovascular disease, and poor complexion. Instead of doubling your dairy intake and risking other health issues, include in your diet these other high-calcium food options: Soy, bok choy, almond milk, broccoli, kale, beans, and salmon (bone in).
Vitamin D helps control calcium levels in your blood, aiding in bone growth and structure. Your skin can drink in Vitamin D from the sun, so get outside! Spend at least 15 minutes outside each day to help your body use calcium to build up minerals in your bones. Vitamin D is also found naturally in egg yolks and fatty fish if you’re looking to put a little sunshine on your plate too.
Magnesium helps your body absorb calcium and aids in creating strong, firm bones. Foods high in magnesium include nuts, seeds, green leafy vegetables, avocados, beans, whole grains, and dark chocolate (yes, please).
Vitamin K aids in the use of calcium in forming bone. This important vitamin can be found in kale, Swiss chard, grapes, basil, and parsley (who said it’s just a garnish).
Potassium helps your body retain calcium, which we already know is used in rebuilding and fortifying bone. Potassium is found naturally in bananas, potatoes, nuts, seeds, fish, meat, and milk.
There are many other vitamins and minerals that aide in bone healing, such as zinc, phosphorous, silicon, and so on. However, if you eat the foods included above, you will also be taking in enough of the other bone-healing nutrients not discussed here. But, don’t let eating a balanced diet be in vain. Some substances can slow your healing time.
Alcohol slows down the healing process of bone, muscle, illness, etc. It also impairs your judgement and coordination, making you more likely to re-injure the healing bone. So, keep the drinking to a minimum while you heal! And keep the drinking to a minimum after you heal to help prevent further fractures and breaks.
Too much salt in your diet can cause, among other things, loss of calcium. Lay off the sodium while you heal. Try for no more than 6 grams per day.
More than four cups of strong coffee a day can slow down the healing process. But don’t worry, a moderate amount of coffee or tea should be fine. Just don’t overdo it while your bone is healing.
First, stop smoking in general. It’s bad for your health and the health of those around you. It also creates brittle bones, because it keeps your bones from getting enough oxygen and nutrients. Smoking alters blood flow and it is your blood that carries nutrients to your broken bone for healing. If you’re serious about healing quickly, or healing at all, then quit smoking and let your blood do its job.
Some medications may slow down the healing process of a broken or fractured bone, so chat with your doctor about the medications you’re taking to see if any adjustments need to be made. One type of medication that slows bone healing is nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication (NSAID), such as Aleve. As mentioned above, inflammation is part of your body’s healing process. The swelling will go down naturally with a well-balanced diet. So, eat right and let your body do what it was programmed to do.
* We all differ in our caloric and nutritional needs, so consult a registered dietitian for specifics if you are unsure of what is too little and what is too much and what you might be deficient in. And if you are skipping meals because you feel that ‘you don’t deserve them’ since you’re not as active as you were pre-injury, speak with a licensed counselor. Negative thoughts and emotions are normal when faced with an injury. It’s an act of self-care to speak with a licensed counselor about any negative thoughts and emotions you are experiencing. In fact, elite and professional athletes often have psychotherapy as part of their post-injury rehabilitation program. You can read more about mental health issues when injured in my post Injured and Depressed.