If you’re a parent or caretaker for children, you may marvel at a child’s ability to heal much more quickly than you—and you may wonder why. The fact that kids do heal at a faster rate than adults is a blessing, certainly: Kids are forever falling out of trees and off their bikes, breaking arms and spraining ankles, so a certain resilience is great news. However, the question remains: Why is there such a discrepancy between the healing times of adults and children?
To quote Health.com, “To understand why children’s bones heal faster than those of adults, it helps to understand how bones heal from fractures. When you break a bone, blood begins to clot at the site of the fracture. This early clot lays the groundwork for reattaching and healing the fragments of bone.” This occurs within the first two weeks of the break. Additionally, the immune system dispatches cells to remove damaged tissue from the break.
Continues Health.com, “Soon, tissue called callus will begin to form, using the blood clot that connects the once-separated pieces as a platform to build upon. This material is like bone, but without the calcium. As a result, it’s quite unstable and can easily be rebroken. In about a month’s time, the callus will harden as it calcifies. After this happens, the body begins replacing the callus with brand-new bone, and this new bone takes the shape and characteristics of the portion it is meant to replace.”
This process happens in both adults and children, but it happens in children at an accelerated rate when compared to adults. In fact, for children, a break can heal in just a few weeks—and actually be “good as new,” as if it had never been broken at all—while adults are laid up for months, often fairly immobile for an extended period of time. Again, the question remains: Why?
Until the age of about 20, the human body’s bones have just about one job—to get bigger and stronger. This means that kids’ bones are growing faster than they can be replaced. Even when a child reaches their full height, their bones are still adding calcium in order to make them denser and stronger. In other words, their bones are acting as if they’re always healing, even if there’s nothing wrong. When a child breaks a bone, the body assigns additional repair cells to the break. The bone, however, is already doing the job at an incredible rate.
On the other hand, adults don’t have it so easy. Again, from Health.com, “When you get old, however, your osteoblasts (bone-builders) can’t keep up with the osteoclasts (bone-removers). When an older adult suffers a bone fracture, the body directs more resources toward the break, but the bone itself is already involved in a losing cycle of bone removal and replacement, with more being removed than replaced.” This is the unfortunate reason why older people take a much longer time to heal.
For adults with fractures and breaks, there are some basic do’s and don’ts to follow in order to speed up your recovery: Do stay as immobile as possible—the shifting about of bone fragments does nothing to help the healing process. Do participate in physical therapy if prescribed by your doctor. Don’t smoke cigarettes: They constrict the blood vessels and decrease circulation. Lastly, do take part in a healthful diet, as it may accelerate your metabolism, thereby helping you heal faster.