When a bone breaks, it bleeds. Your bones contain thousands of blood vessels that supply the cells inside. Clotted blood pools into a glob (how’s that for a medical term?) that surrounds the broken ends of the bone.
That clotted blood is good and normal – the cells and proteins inside it provide a type of scaffold that allows cells to know where to grow.
The cells form strands of new bone that interlink and grow into a hard, solid mass across and around the fracture site. This process of going from clotted blood to solid bone takes about six weeks in most situations.
As the break heals, the pain from the fracture will decrease and become less painful. When you touch the fractured area, the pain will lessen as the fracture gets more solid.
So, one way to tell if the broken bone is healed is for the doctor to examine you – if the bone doesn’t hurt when he touches it, and it’s been about six weeks since you broke it, the bone is most likely healed.
Most doctors check x-rays to see if bones are healing. The calcified blood clot around the fractured ends of the bones will show up on x-rays and is called callus. Callus is just new bone that has formed and grown across the fracture site. It’s another sign that the broken bone is healed.
For example, when a bone breaks, there is usually a space between the bones on the x-ray. This space gradually fills in with new bone as the bone heals – you can see this space get filled up with bone on x-rays taken after the fracture happens. Sometimes this new bone (callus) doesn’t show up on x-rays until right at the end, around four or five weeks.
So, a broken bone is healed after the bone stops hurting and there is some evidence of new bone formation on x-rays taken in the doctor’s office.
And the next time you wonder if your broken bone is healing, the answer is that it’s been healing since the instant you broke it!