Daily Herald
The body responds quickly to heal broken bones
By Hope Babowice | Daily Herald Columnist
Published: 9/22/2010 12:00 AM

Check these out

The Warren-Newport Library in Gurnee suggests these titles on bones:

• "Skeleton" by Jen Green

• "Skeleton: Our Body's Framework" by Jinny Johnson

• "The Skeletal System" by Kay Manolis

• "Staying Healthy" by Angela Royston

• "Healthy Eating" by Cath Senker

"How do you get better when you break a bone?" asked a sixth-grader in Gregg Thompson's social studies class at Woodland Middle School in Gurnee.

Bone healing gets a fast break from the body's quick response team.

"It's pretty cool," said Dr. Joseph Janicki, pediatric orthopedic specialist at Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago and co-director of the hospital's soon-to-open Bone Health Clinic.

"Tissues heal with scar tissue," Janicki said. "If you cut skin, it heals with a scar. The liver also heals with scar tissue. But bones heal with bone."

When an impact causes your bones to fracture or break, or if an impact causes a greenstick fracture - a break that doesn't cut all the way through the bone - your body jump-starts a four-stage healing process.

"When the break occurs, that's the inflammatory stage," Janicki said. "The ends of the bones bleed and cause swelling and signals nutrients and cells to swarm to that area."

In stages two and three, the body fabricates a soft cartilage cover along the break to keep the bone in place. The soft cartilage is replaced by a hard callous and then the body begins to replace cartilage with bone tissue.

The last stage, remodeling, happens over the next few months. Even when there's no broken bone, remodeling is a process that occurs continuously in everyone's body.

"The body takes away extra or slightly damaged bone and creates normal bone," Janicki said.

Bone fractures, especially wrist and elbow, are what often bring children into the hospital, along with knee twists and sprains from sports injuries.

Janicki also has patients with very serious bone problems, such as scoliosis or hip dysplasia, and bone deformities that can come from bone not healing properly. Increasingly there are bone problems associated with obesity since this bone is not as strong in excessively overweight children and adults.

The best thing you can do for your bones is to be active - run, jump, skip. And do weight-bearing activities for at least 30 minutes a day or go outside and play, Janicki said. Proper diet and exercise are the keys to overall bone health.

Bone density or strength peaks between the ages of 16 and 25, so the way you treat your bones now might help to prevent fragile bones and osteoporosis later in life.

How can you improve your chances of having strong bones when you're older? Drink plenty of milk and eat calcium-rich foods, such as dairy products, collard greens, salmon and sardines, for a total of three to four servings each day. Go outside in the sun for vitamin D or take a vitamin D supplement.

Check with your physician for the best information tailored to your body health and lifestyle.

The new Children's Memorial Bone Health Clinic, slated to open in late fall at the Lincoln Park facility, will link research, education and treatment in an effort to create solutions for lifelong bone health.

Dr. Janicki and his colleagues, including Dr. Craig Langman, are conducting research on bone density and the effect that good health and nutrition have on people as they age.

"Maybe we'll be able to identify people who could be at risk for bone breaks, not just as a child but as a 60-year-old," Janicki said. "Why is one person more likely to have a bone break than another - is it just bad luck or can that risk be identified and fixed?"