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How Long Does It Take Bones to Heal?

different bones healing at different rates

Bone recovery time can vary greatly depending on the individual and the type, severity and complexity of the fracture or break. This article will cover how long it takes for different types of bone fractures and breaks to heal depending on the type and severity of injury.

Time to Heal Based on Type of Bone & Injury

Fortunately, most broken bones will eventually heal enough to make a full recovery. The recovery process, in fact, begins immediately, as the body starts channeling calcium to damaged bones immediately after an injury. A hairline fracture, among the mildest of these breaks, may be almost unnoticed and heal without treatment of any kind. A displaced fracture, far more severe, may require surgery because both sides of the bone are out of place.

In almost all cases, though, bones can take many months to over a year to fully recover from a fracture. This is especially common when complications are involved such as infections, multiple fractures, or ligament damage. If a doctor prescribes surgery (typically followed by weeks of physical therapy), there will be a long, difficult road to full recovery. 

There are 206 bones in the adult human body. And of those 206 bones, there are only seven that commonly break, largely because of their prominent location. 

Collarbone or Clavicle

Accidental falls, car accidents, and contact sports all can break a collarbone or clavicle (the bone between the upper rib cage and scapula, or shoulder blade, which holds the arm in place). About 80 percent of the time, breaks in this area happen right in the middle of the collarbone, often as one falls on an outstretched arm. 

With no complications, a broken clavicle requires at a least six weeks to heal enough to be comfortably usable. This includes a recovery period, during which shoulder strength and range of motion is regained. If surgery is required, it may take four to six months before one can return to strenuous work or sports. 

Thigh Bone (or, Femur)

A hip fracture is a break in the thigh bone at the hip joint: a ball-and-socket where the femur meets the pelvic bone. Although it can happen at any age, it is the most devastating fall injury to those 65 years of age and older, often due to osteoporosis weakening the bone structure.

For the over 300,000 elderly individuals hospitalized with broken hips each year, it can be an arduous recovery, sometimes costing them their independence, reports the CDC. Younger people also can break their femur in a car accident, other serious trauma, or by falling from a great height. 

Treatment for a broken hip often begins with surgery, followed by one to two weeks in the hospital, and weeks to months  spent in physical therapy. The total recovery time for broken hips is substantial, lasting from months to over a year depending on the specifics of each individual injury.

Arm Bones

Sports injuries, car crashes, and brittle bones are all factors that result in fractures—or compound fractures—to one or more of the slender bones in the arm. A fracture to the upper arm (from the shoulder to elbow) involves the humerus, while the lower arm (from the elbow to wrist) is made up of the radius and ulna.

The humerus is commonly broken with a direct blow, like a traumatic fall or car crash, while injury to the radius and ulna (aka forearm) is commonly seen in teen athletes. Osteoporosis—combined with falling accidents—is the main cause for arm bone fractures among the elderly. 

With the radius or ulna, a small fracture could mean four weeks in a cast, but a severe fracture could require surgery and up to 12 weeks of inaction. Humerus fractures take at least eight weeks to heal, and over 12 weeks for more serious fractures. Rehab exercises may be needed for up to six months after a humerus fracture heals. 

Wrist Bones

In a trip and fall accident, people fall forward after colliding with or getting caught on an obstacle. People instinctively try to cushion these falls by bracing themselves with their hands and wrists. Because of this, wrist fractures are among the most common injuries sustained in trip and fall cases. These injuries also happen in sports where trip and falls are common. These include skiing, snowboarding, and football. 

There are 10 bones in the wrist: eight small ones known as carpal bones, and the ends of the long bones mentioned previously: the radius and ulna. The carpal bone broken most frequently is the scaphoid, located near the base of the thumb.

When the radius breaks, it is often a distal radius fracture impacting the end nearest the wrist. Named for the Irish surgeon who first described it, the Colles’ fracture is the most common distal radius fracture—it stands out because the broken end of the radius tilts upward. 

When a wrist bone is broken, the victim can anticipate at least six weeks in a cast, or significantly longer if a misaligned bone calls for surgery, or if there are complications like osteoporosis. A full recovery can take at least one year, but stiffness and ache can last for two years or even become permanent depending on individual circumstances.

The Ankle Joint

Ankles are near the bottom of the skeletal frame, helping to support body weight and balance. Break any of the three bones comprising the ankle joint—the tibia and fibula in the lower leg or the talus, a wedge-shaped bone in the foot—and it may mean an extended period of immobility. If tendons are damaged, which is common among ankle injuries, recovery time can take much longer.   

Ankle bones and tendons succumb to excessive pressure, such as a direct impact in a backyard scrimmage, or through a sharp twist related to a fall. While a cast can suffice for a simple fracture, fragments of broken bone often require the surgical placement of screws and wires… and, of course, more time off the ankle. 

For an ankle break without complications, anticipate six to eight weeks in a cast followed by physical therapy. Just how much time is spent in PT will depend on the individual’s own progress and the severity of the break.

The Shin Bone and Lower Leg Bones

The leg is made up of several bones, including the thigh bone (femur), shin bone (tibia), and the bone that extends alongside the tibia below the knee called the fibula. How long after a fracture of one or more of these bones one can expect recovery to take depends on which bone is broken and how severely. With this type of injury, the healing process often begins with staying off the leg and using crutches or a cane for at least six to eight weeks.

With a severe break, recovery time can be up to several months—and sometimes longer. Bad breaks, such as those associated with multiple fractures or ligament damage, may mean not only physical therapy but surgery with the insertion of plates, rods, or screws to make sure the bone is properly aligned during healing. 

Spine and Vertebrae

The spine is made up of 30 vertebrae stacked on top of each other like a roll of quarters and consisting of a honeycomb of support rods covered with bone. Osteoporosis is often the reason the elderly break their backs without falling.

An average of 750,000 vertebral compression fractures (VCFs) are reported among Americans aged 65 and older each year, according to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons (AANS). With a VCF, the bony block or vertebral body found in the spine collapses, typically in the middle area or thoracic spine. The result can be intense pain, loss of height, and a deformed spine or disability. 

In more severe cases, those with brittle bones may suffer a VCF doing a simple chore, while in moderate cases, it may take lifting a heavy object, a fall, or other trauma. Though less common, those with healthy bones also can sustain VCF in extreme cases, such as a car accident. 

Time for Spine to Heal without Surgery

Without surgical intervention, many victims of VCF will heal slowly, sometimes requiring as long as three months. But there are others whose recovery depends on intervention—if not major surgery. In these cases, minimally invasive procedures like vertebroplasty—in which an acrylic bone cement is injected for stability—may be necessary.

One of the main functions of the vertebrae is to protect the spinal cord. When an automobile accident, sports injury, or other trauma causes a fracture, bone fragments can pinch the spinal cord or nerves. Such a fracture can cut off signals from the central nervous system to the area below the wound, resulting in paralysis and long-term nerve damage. There is no cure for spinal cord damage, although research is ongoing.

Can You Sue for Your Bone Injury?

If your bone fracture or break was caused by the negligence of a third party, you may be able to sue for legal compensation. Filing a personal injury lawsuit for a bone break or fracture can help cover all medical costs related to your injury, as well as wages lost while away from work, and any other damages. Free consultations are available for anyone looking to start the legal process, or just to determine the value of their case. Call 855-468-7626 to speak with a bone injury lawyer today.

Case Study: The Road to Bone Recovery

Every Sunday, June bicycled to the weekly farmer’s market in Beacon, New York to stock up on groceries for the week.

On her way home from the market one summer afternoon, an impatient motorcyclist was tailing her closely, trying to find a way around her. Eventually, the biker sped up behind June just as the car in front of her stopped short.

June stopped in time to avoid hitting the car in front of her, but the biker crashed into her from behind, destroying her bicycle, ruining her groceries, and shattering her left femur. “He was tailing me so close, for so long, I almost knew it was going to happen,” said June. “So I wasn’t surprised when I got hit. It just hurt. A lot. The next thing I remember, I woke up in the hospital.”

In the process of recovering for her injuries, June decided to press charges against the reckless motorcyclist through Sobo & Sobo’s Newburgh office. Within a year, June and her legal team successfully argued for the revocation of the defendant’s motorcycle license, and reached a settlement that has helped her make a near-full recovery.

This is a true story. We’ve changed the name and photograph of our client to protect her privacy.