Thinking about bone fractures brings up an old English children’s rhyme. “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” This ancient phrase has supplied many a verbally abused child with clever words in defense from a bully. I wondered if this old saying had an interesting history, but found nothing about its early beginning on the internet. The first written record of the phrase was in an English book authored in 1830 with the words “golden sticks and stones.” Later in 1862 the words, that are used now, popped up in a U.S. magazine printed by the African Methodist Episcopal Church.
Close to 15 million fractures occur yearly in the U.S. from various causes, mostly from falling and more rarely from sticks and stones. It’s intriguing to examine how a fractured bone heals. When a single bone breaks, there becomes two parts with the rough edges of the fracture held loosely together by muscle and soft tissue. Bleeding into the fracture site is a necessary step for healing since the blood clot that forms around the break initiates inflammation (redness, pain, swelling, and heat). Inflammation tells the body to avoid movement, stimulates new blood vessels to increase blood flow to the area, and calls in white blood cells to fight infection and clean up destroyed tissue and cells.
Over the first week or two after the fracture, stem cells are drawn in to help. They turn into cartilage-making cells and replace the blood clot with an early and soft cartilage. This material is sticky and if the bones are not yet reconnected, the gummy and adhesive cartilage helps them re-join and then binds the bones together. This soft callus hardens over the next couple of weeks, stem cells turn into bone making cells, and new bone tissue starts filling in.
Given proper nutrition, immobilization of the fracture, and enough time, bones will completely heal, even in very old persons. I believe it is a slow and constant miracle how our bodies are always and everywhere healing, repairing, and even replacing themselves from birth unto death.
Back to the children’s rhyme, “sticks and stones . . .” Isn’t it true that sometimes hurtful words cause broken hearts that never mend? Perhaps we should learn from the grace and speed of healing bones and let go of those hurtful words, forgive, reconcile, and heal.