All About Your Bones: How Bones Break Down and How to Build Them Back Up

Bone Health and Healing Your 2 Types of Bone Tissue

Breaking a bone can be a painful and traumatic event and the healing process can be long and arduous without ample care and nutrition. Before we talk about what happens inside our bodies when we break a bone we will first discuss the 2 types of bone tissue known as Cortical bone and Cancellous bone that make up our skeletal bones.

Cortical Bone Tissue

Cortical bone tissue, also known as compact bone, is the smooth, white, and hard outer layer of a bone. It is the shiny surface you would immediately see if looking at a human skeleton. Cortical bone is called compact bone because it is an extremely hard and dense tissue made of a very tight matrix of cell structures. This compact design helps to add rigidity to the skeletal bone and support the weight of the body as well as protect its vital organs.

Cancellous Bone Tissue

Under the cortical bone tissue lies the second tissue type, cancellous bone tissue. Cancellous bone tissue also called spongy bone due to its porous appearance, is made of a matrix that looks a lot like a sponge. This structure makes it a more flexible tissue than cortical bone tissue and grows in a way to support forces most commonly applied to the specific bones function.  The cancellous bone structure distributes the mechanical load of the body evenly across the bone to prevent it from breaking. For example, the femur, one of the strongest bones in the human body, supports our weight while walking, running, jumping and carrying additional heavy loads. The spongy cancellous bone tissue acts as the support structure of the skeletal bone like the crisscrossing steel girders of a bridge, distributing the forces across a large surface area rather than directing the force to a single point. It this architecture and mechanical that prevents our bones from breaking when under extreme activity.

Bone Fractures and the Phases of Natural Bone Healing

A femur does a great job supporting the increased loads on the body during a run because it’s designed to absorb vertical compressive forces caused by the foot striking the ground. However, if the femur has a major load placed on it in the horizontal direction, say from a car bumper during a traffic accident, the bone is unable to distribute the force evenly and the bone ultimately breaks. Of course, bones do occasionally break while performing the normal activity they evolved to support, but that is generally due to underlying issues of malnutrition, tumors, or diseases such as osteoporosis, which weakens the bone. Lucky for us, humans evolved with the ability to heal broken bones. This healing process is known as “fracture healing” and has three distinct phases that can take 3 to 12 weeks t complete.

  • Reactive Phase

The first phase is the Reactive Phase. This phase begins almost immediately after a. You will notice that over the first couple of hours that the site of the broken bone is swollen and inflamed. This is your body purposely flooding the site with blood, also known as a hematoma. Your blood carries with it the major cells of your immune system, and your immune system is going to work hard to do site cleanup; remove any loose bone fragments or debris, and to kill any germs that could cause infection.

  • Reparative Phase

The second phase is the reparative phase. This is when the rebuilding of the damaged bone starts to come in to play. Stability of the break is important for this phase. Not only is the stability of the broken bone required to prevent excessive pain, it is also required during the formation of what is called a “soft callus” around the break site. This callous is made of collagen and gives the bone more support and acts as scaffolding for new bone tissue to grow across. The collagen-based callus is very flexible and not at all load bearing, this is why you will generally have to have on a cast during the healing process. Any sort of movement of the soft callus is not only going be extremely painful, but it will cause a setback in the time required to heal.

After the formation of the soft callus comes the growth of the “hard callus”. Specific bone cells called “osteoblasts” begin to lay down new bone tissue in a process called ossification. This new bone matrix replaces the soft callus tissue and bridges the gap between the two broken pieces of bone, slowly weaving the two bone segments together 

with the harder materials required to support our bodies. It is at the end of this phase that you would typically have a cast removed, approximately 12 weeks.

  • Remodeling Phase

The third and final step of bone healing is the “remodeling phase”. Remodeling is a complicated process of both bone formation and bone remodeling. Essentially your body will continue to grow new bone at the site of the injury, filling the gaps and reinforcing weak areas with new bone tissue, while at the same time breaking down irregular bone tissue that was grown but unneeded. This process can take a year or an entire lifetime, depending on the area of the break, the force loads experienced on it and your age.

Can you heal bone faster?

There are some actions you can take, under the supervision of your doctor, to improve your healing times and return to normal activity faster.

  • Exercise

It might sound counter-intuitive but exercise can improve bone hardness and density. Your doctor may instruct you to perform some light activity that stresses the injured area. Applying force to the injured area actually stimulates bone tissue to grow faster and harder.  Exercising is also a preventative action against the onset of osteoporosis.

  • Don’t Smoke Cigarettes

Aside from the obvious reasons not to smoke cigarettes (cancer, heart disease, and stroke), cigarettes have a negative effect on the bone healing process. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine study “The effect of Smoking on Bone Healing”, smoking has a negative effect on bone healing in terms of healing delays and caused more complications.

  • Proper nutrition

Be sure that you are eating foods that are rich in calcium and get lots of Vitamin-D, both are extremely important during fracture healing as well as for sustaining normal bone density. Calcium, found in dairy foods such as cottage cheese, milk and yogurt aids in the development of bone tissue. You can also find calcium supplements, but consult your doctor before taking these, there have been recent studies linking calcium supplementation with heart disease. Vitamin-D, on the other hand, is produced naturally in our bodies when we are exposed to sunlight. So head on out and enjoy some sunshine.

Calcium and Vitamin D Supplements alone DON’T WORK!

Science shows a strong link in the bodies need of calcium and vitamin D to heal, strengthen, and mend bones. Traditional medicine told us all to simply take a daily vitamin of Vitamin D and Calcium and we would all have stronger bones!

Turns out that isn’t the case. A recent study of 14 trials concluded that there was NO change in fractures to those taking vitamins and those taking a placebo. In some instances there was higher instances of fractures in the group taking vitamins.

Chinese medicine, however, is no stranger to these facts! Vitamins and simple supplements are simply costing you money, going in the your body and leaving out your urine! Your body has calcium and vitamin D in its system from foods and such but your body won’t absorb any of it without signals. Chinese herbs, which are simply medicinal foods, contain herbs that tell your body to absorb and put calcium and vitamin D to use. It is not simply that vitamin D and calcium don’t work, science proves your body NEEDS it to heal, it’s just that the OTC tablets at the pharmacy aren’t helping you any!

Here are 2 herbs to use in combination for bone healing, strengthening, or bone fracture healing:

  • Xu Duan / Teasel Root – Translates to restore what is broken. This root is beneficial for bone healing and has as well as helps absorption of key minerals and alkaloids. This Chinese herb is also beneficial in sinew, ligament, and tendon healing.


  • Gu Sui Bu / Drynaria –  Translates to broken bone repair. It is similar in actions as Xu Duan, but is more closely related to the bones. Studies show it has a direct effect at the bone cell level.

If you want to check out some Chinese herbal remedies that are for bone strengthening and bone healing, DImmak Herbs is a leader in Chinese sports medicine and injury products. The herbs are of the highest quality and lab tested. Their Bone Healing Supplement contains Xu Duan and Gu Sui Bu as well as many other helpful Chinese herbs for natural bone healing. These herbs also come in a Bone and Anti-inflammatory Liniment convenient spray. Other products are easily found in the Injury Rehab Supplements section.

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