Healing from a Broken Bone
You would think that breaking my first bone at age 45, I would at least have an interesting story to tell. Having scrambled up trees after shelf mushrooms, hopped across slippery rocks in fast-moving streams, jumped from boulder to boulder, and hiked many miles of uneven trails through the woods, and what happens? I slip and fall coming out the front door of a friend’s house and break my lower fibula just above the ankle.
It does prove that there IS preventative medicine for fractures – when you are really exhausted from a day of work, just go to bed. Don’t try to keep doing things after you are just plain done for the day. And of course, we can all benefit from nourishing our bones (and teeth by inference) before something like this happens. Don’t wait until you’re 70 to start building your bones – keep nourishing them your whole life.
The great thing about being an herbalist is that when something happens in my body, I get to figure out the best thing to do, and then I get to teach others. This protocol I’ve come up with for broken bones could also be used to treat osteoporosis, osteopenia, or just to strengthen your bones in general. This information has come from books, herbalist friends and colleagues, my wife Karen Savage Shane, and other healers. And after a number of requests for what I’m doing, I am writing a blog so that we all can learn.
The part that has been the biggest challenge is having the patience to let my body heal. It’s been two months now and I am walking fairly normally at last, which has been hard enough to take, especially as it has been my right foot, my driving foot. But I am still reminding myself to keep taking the remedies, even though I fell so much better. Bones take 18 months to fully heal.
So often I see clients, and even myself, excited by the quick symptomatic results of herbal remedies, but get impatient with how long the deeper healing takes. And it does take consistency – tonic herbs are like special food. No one would think that eating one fresh vegetable a month would help much, and it’s the same with herbs – it takes bringing herbs into your life to create healing.
So I have this to say: Thank you, oh clients of mine – I have such empathy for you right now! It is hard to take all those teas and make those dietary changes, and then keep doing them week after week. And I have also seen how much things can change when you do those things.
There are 3 main stages of fractures – Inflammation Stage, Reparative Stage, and Remodeling Stage. What’s most important is that we use one set of treatments for the initial Inflammation Stage, lasting about 2 weeks, and different remedies for the repairing and rebuilding stages that follow. For the initial stage, herbs can help reduce the initial pain and inflammation, and as the initial inflammation goes down, there are many remedies and foods that can help rebuild and strengthen the damaged bone.
For the first couple weeks and especially the first couple of days, it is very much a first aid type situation. The first thing I did was take a homeopathic Arnica 200C (if you have Arnica 30C that works fine too, but 200C potency will be more effective). Karen is a trained homeopath, and she gave me Arnica 1M the first few days. The “M” remedies should only be used by an experienced homeopath, but can be incredibly effective. Arnica is a great remedy for all kinds of trauma – bruising, shock, sore muscles, dental surgery (I took it before and after my root canal), and yes, even broken bones. Please note that taking a lower potency like 30C after taking a higher potency like 200C or 1M will lower the healing effects.
I alternated the homeopathic with herbal tinctures of Turmeric (Curcuma longa) and Willow (Salix nigra) as anti-inflammatories, and occasional Chinese Corydalis (Corydalis yanhusuo) for the pain. I started taking Comfrey tincture (Symphytum officinale) internally as soon as the doctor said the bone didn’t need to be set. Comfrey is one of our best herbs for healing bone and tissue, both internally and externally, and is so good at healing bone that I wanted to be sure not to take it until the bone was set or I knew it didn’t need to be. Comfrey is safe for short-term use but caution should be used if taking it long-term because of possible liver implications. I also took a Chinese formula, San Qi 17, the first week.
Mostly I worked externally at first, using a combination of Chinese herbs, western herbs, and homeopathy. I did not, however, use ice after the first day. Chinese medicine says never to use ice on injuries because it causes the blood to form adhesions, slows down healing, and tightens the tendons and tissue. Though it can be useful in the first couple hours to stop the spread of inflammation, I never use ice after that because I want there to be a smooth flow of new nutrients into the damaged area, and that blood flow also allows removal of waste products.
That said, I rotated 3 different remedies externally: Traumeel (homeopathic blend of Arnica and other remedies), a Chinese liniment for trauma called Zheng Gu Shui (widely available at many health food stores and Asian markets), and a Comfrey salve. I also used DMSO with some of these remedies to allow the medicine to penetrate more deeply.
Within the first week, I started eating food and taking supplements to build bone and connective tissue health. After all, it’s not just the bone that’s injured; there is always injury to the soft tissue, tendons and ligaments around a bone that’s been that badly injured.
To that end, I have been drinking a lot of bone broth (see recipe from previous blog on Winter Health), which provides some of the amino acids and proteins necessary for healing, as well as a wide variety of minerals that the bone needs specifically. It also contains glucosamine and chondroitin, found in the connective tissue of mammals, which you may know as supplements for joint health – but I always prefer food to supplements when available.
And there are also great supplements for bone health – I have been taking Vitamins D3 and K in capsules, and teaspoons of Calms’ powdered Magnesium in water. Vitamin C is also very important for bone health, but I have been getting that by eating a lot of fresh seasonal fruit. I’ve also been taking Gaia Herbs’ Hawthorn solid extract by the teaspoonful, which is helpful for its Vitamin C content as well as a very rich array of anti-oxidants to help quell the damage caused the by free radicals released in the inflammatory response.
I also took a liquid trace mineral supplement made by Clark’s that I feel is very effective. You can find more information on that particular supplement here.
But in the end it comes down to actually taking the medicines. The best knowledge in the world won’t help if you don’t actually use it! It takes a while to build bone, and it can take a while to heal from chronic disease as well. Treating the initial injury is easy, but we neeed to keep nourishing and building so that we remain strong throughout our lives. And that is the ultimate lesson of herbal healing.
Healing from a Broken Bone