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What can cause a fracture to have delayed healing?

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Most bones heal in a few weeks or a few months depending on the bone, how severe the break is and how old you are. Sometimes, though, they don’t heal the way they should. In this Ask Dr. Geier video, I explain delayed healing and some common risks for slow bone healing.

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Carissa asks:
I broke my humerus backpacking. I have a plate that bends down my elbow. I have 7 nails. The scar is really bad. It’s been 11 weeks, it’s swollen and I can’t use my thumb or my right hand in general much. The doctor said it’s “delayed healing.” I’m 46 and a non-smoker. What causes delayed healing?

Delayed healing, or delayed union, means that a bone is taking longer to heal than normal. While the length of time varies based on the bones, generally orthopedic surgeons consider delayed healing when it has been three months or longer. Nonunion means the bone did not heal the way it should and likely won’t without some sort of treatment to make the bone heal.

As for risks for delayed healing, Carissa mentions probably the biggest one – smoking. Smokers have a much higher risk of delayed healing than non-smokers. Other possible risks include diabetes, poor blood supply to a bone or part of a bone, certain medications, and more.

In this video, I discuss some of the risks for delayed healing and what you might be able to do about it.

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