Fractures happen, and they happen often. Each year, around 6 million people will break a bone in the United States. Whether a minor fracture, like a hairline fracture, or a major fracture, the recovery can be tedious. It can take weeks—even months—to fully heal. As overwhelming as that can be, there is something you can do to make your recovery easier and quicker. Follow a healthy, healing diet. Nutrition is a necessary part of recovery that cannot and should not be neglected.
When we say diet, we don’t mean you should necessarily try to lose weight during recovery. By diet, we mean a nutritional plan that specifically targets your need during recovery. A proper diet that supports bone healing will probably involve adding some new things to your diet and even taking some things away.
Even young children understand calcium’s integral role in bone health. Not only does it keep our bones strong, but it helps them rebuild when they’ve been broken. Calcium is one of the main minerals in bone. In order for our bones to heal, we need an ample supply of calcium. There are three phases of fracture healing: inflammatory, reparative, and remodeling. During the reparative and remodeling stages, our body pulls calcium from our bone reserves and then from our diets. Which is why our diets need to be calcium rich.
The average adult needs are 1,000 mg/day of calcium. Great sources of calcium include:
- Cottage cheese
- Fortified products like juice or cereal
Getting enough protein will be crucial in the success of your recovery. Protein makes up about half of our bone structure. When you experience a fracture, you need amino acids in order to rebuild bone. Amino acids are considered the building blocks of protein and they are necessary for bone healing. Examples of amino acids that are important to our bones include lysine, arginine, glutamine, and cysteine. Protein helps your body absorb calcium and also aids in tissue repair. With adequate protein, you can accelerate your fracture recovery.
You can get protein from many sources, including:
- Baked potato
Your blood uses vitamin D to absorb and properly use calcium. Low vitamin D levels inhibit bone healing and slow your recovery. On the other hand, adequate levels can speed up and fortify healing.
The best way to get vitamin D is from the sun. Our skin absorbs vitamin D from sunlight. Spending 10-15 minutes outside each day can give you the vitamin D you need. However, there are obstacles that prevent us from getting sunlight. Depending on where we live and depending on the season, sunlight might not be available every day. There aren’t many natural food sources but here are a few options:
- Egg yolks
- Fatty fish
- Fortified foods including juice, cheese, and other dairy products
Vitamin D supplements are also common since getting enough vitamin D can be tricky.
This vitamin plays multiple roles in bone repair and healing. Vitamin C is an antioxidant—antioxidants help repair the damage caused by free radicals. When tissue is damaged, it releases free radicals. These free radicals continue to cause damage unless stopped by antioxidants. Vitamin C is one of the most powerful antioxidants and crucial in repairing tissue and other damage caused during a fracture.
Vitamin C also helps form collagen, a critical protein found in bone. A vitamin C deficiency during fracture healing can cause weak collagen. For a strong recovery, you need plenty of vitamin C.
Luckily, vitamin C is readily available in food sources like:
- Leafy greens like spinach
- Sweet potatoes
Iron deficiency is never a good thing. But, you especially don’t want to experience it while recovering from a fracture. Iron deficiency can cause anemia, making you extremely fatigued. Anemia can slow your recovery significantly. Like vitamin C, iron also helps your body build collagen.
Sources of iron in our diets include:
- Red meat
- Whole-grain bread
- Leafy greens
When supplements can help
When approved by your doctor, supplements can help fill any nutritional gaps during your recovery. Though focusing on the foods in your diet is the best place to start, there are a few things to consider.
After an injury or during any type of recovery, appetite loss is common. You may find your appetite decreased if you fit in any of these scenarios:
You are on medication. To help deal with pain, your doctor may describe a pain medication. Some medications can decrease your appetite, making it difficult to eat the nutritional meals your body requires.
Your fracture requires surgery. Following surgery, many patients experience appetite loss. Your body has been through a lot and eating a good meal might not sound good for a few days. The best thing you can do is be nutritionally prepared before surgery. However, fractures are unexpected and surgery might be unplanned.
You are of older age. As we age, our appetites change. Appetite loss is common in our older years due to many things, including factors like chronic illness, medications, and natural biological changes. As we age, we are also more prone to slips and falls resulting in fractures.
Since nutrition is so crucial to healing, supplements can help provide that nutrition when your appetite is low.