Is Heat Good for a Broken Bone?

Is Heat Good for a Broken Bone?

Often as a physical therapist, I am asked, is heat good for a broken bone? The application of heat depends on the stage of healing of the bone, and the status of the surrounding soft tissue.Picture of an X-ray of a lower leg fracture with the text 'Heat or Ice?'. JOI logoImage of Is Heat Good for a Broken Bone

What are the stages of healing for a broken bone? 

  • Acute inflammation and increased swelling and effusion in the site of injury mark the initial stage of healing. This occurs at onset of injury, and generally lasts for about 1-3 weeks. Blood is shunted towards the site, carrying inflammatory chemicals, which initiates healing in the area of the broken bone. It is in this stage that it is highly advised against applying heat to affected area, as excessive swelling can cause increased pain and other complications. 
  • The next stage of healing is identified by a soft callus formation between the fractured sites of bone. In this stage, swelling is decreased, and new healing bone begins to harden. This occurs in 4-8 weeks. Soft callus formation is not evident in X-rays.
  • As the callus bone transforms and hardens, this marks the third stage. Hard callus formation typically occurs 8-12 weeks post injury, and often evident in X-rays. 
  • The final stage of involves the remodeling of bone. Depending on the site of the fracture this could take several years. The type of stresses and loads determine the shape and strength of the bone.

If you want to learn more about fractures, go to The Effect of Heat on the Healing of Fractures.  This study showed an increase in callus formation of the bone when using heat to help the fracture heal. 

Is Heat Good for a Healing FractureImage of a fracture

What is the Effect of Ice and Heat when Applied to a Healing Bone?

Ice and heat have contrasting effects to the inflammation of the site of injury.  So, is heat or ice good for a broken bone? Applying ice to the site results in the constriction of blood vessels, reducing circulation and swelling. 

It may also be effective in reducing pain. Applying heat would increase circulation to the injury site, and bring about the inflammatory properties that aim to heal the tissues. Moreover, heat can reduce muscle stiffness, and encourage movement.  Is heat good for the healing of a broken bone?  The answer is yet is the later stages of healing. 

When should Heat or Ice be Applied to the area of a Broken Bone?

  • In the acute inflammation stage, it is advised to utilize cold therapy to control swelling. 
  • In the soft callus formation stage, if swelling is severe, it is advisable to use ice if needed. 
  • In the hard callus and remodeling stage, heat may be applied to the area.

So, is heat good for a broken bone?  The answer is to use heat in the remodeling stage of bone healing. 

Fracture Care and Telemedicine

During the outbreak of COVID-19, JOI MD's and Rehab are offering telemedicine services to all of our patients. Our physicians are also offering ASAP fracture care for those who would like to avoid the ER. To learn more click here or call JOI-2000. 

If you have further questions regarding a fracture or would like to make an ASAP appointment with one of our fracture orthopaedic specialists, please call JOI-2000 or click BOOK APPOINTMENT below.

By: Genesis Villanueva, Physical Therapist JOI Rehab

Click HERE to watch our online scheduling video.

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