How to measure calories burned to heal from various injuries?
January 29, 2009 8:17 AM   Subscribe

How many calories are burned to heal an injury? Presumably a minor abrasion would require less energy than a deep cut to heal. What about a broken bone? Liposuction? Heart transplant? Is there a chart with this sort of information somewhere?
posted by Grod to Health & Fitness (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Probably there are too many confounding factors to accurately calculate the calories used for healing to be useful for determining your overall calorie use (i.e., not useful for considering in a diet). Head injury may take more calories to heal than a cut on your skin, but it also may require limiting yourself to essentially a sedentary lifestyle for a period.

For example, some people gain weight after quitting smoking, others lose weight. Could that be a result of their body no longer needing to heal the damage to their lungs from the smoke and processing the chemicals? Or are they losing weight because now they are better able to and thus more inclined to exercise more/longer/harder? Is it a result of a metabolic shift? Is that shift temporary?

From FamilyEducation.com:
"An active athlete who cannot exercise due to injury might fear weight gain and start dieting. [...] This can be detrimental to healing because nutrition is crucial at times of injury. If the injury is to a leg, calories burned are actually higher than you think, as it takes more calories to hop on one leg, use crutches, or use your upper body to move around. Also, your body requires more calories to heal the injury. Therefore, although the injured athlete might have to cut back a little on caloric intake, there is really little risk of weight gain during this time."

You get the idea.

In terms of exact scientific figures for curiosity sake or another purpose, I'm afraid I can't help much. Here's a primer on the issue generally in terms of what athletes should do:
Nutrients for Healing and Recovery Calories (Energy)
posted by unclezeb at 8:44 AM on January 29, 2009


I don't think you can find an exact answer unless you separate all sorts of other body parts and well...thats kinda unethical.

BUT...I think the closest you can come to is this:

Broken legs. In order to heal, doctor prescribes bedrest for 6 weeks (lets assume...I'm using 6 as an example, it is probably different, and you can plug in whatever it actually is into my formula).

During the course of a normal (non-broken legs) day, you would consume about 2,000 calories. I believe you spent 1200 calories for "essential services" breathing, circulating, brain function, liver, etc. Assuming you are not gaining or losing any weight, Thats about 800 calories that you spend walking, talking, exercising, other normal things.

Since you are on bedrest. Lets assume that 600 of those 800 calories that you use for "nonessential services" won't be used. At the end of 6 weeks, you haven't changed your diet, nor have you gained/lost any muscle/fat/weight, and your legs have healed. You can assume that 600 calories per day times 42(number of bedrest days) is how many calories it took to heal you. 25,200 calories.

WARNING. This is ONLY a method. By no means am I even close to being accurate. This is totally hypothetical but gives you an example of how something like this is done. Don't go breaking your legs and put yourself on http://blogs.wsj.com/health/2008/08/13/the-michael-phelps-diet-dont-try-it-at-home/">the Michael Phelps diet for 3 days hoping to heal immediately.
posted by hal_c_on at 8:50 AM on January 29, 2009


It seems something about my wording -- maybe asking about calories in general, or perhaps the use of liposuction as a scenario (ripping tissue from the body seems like it would be a fairly traumatic injury to me) -- makes people think I'm trying to invent a self-injury diet. I'm not. I slipped on some ice today, received a minor abrasion to my palm, and started to wonder about the resources required for routine and extreme healing.

hal_c_on, wouldn't one lose muscle through disuse during 1.5 months of bed-rest? Even someone with a sedentary life style uses their muscles more than they would if they were confined to bed.
posted by Grod at 9:04 AM on January 29, 2009


From a nutritional standpoint, your body uses more than calories to repair itself. You may need to input proteins and minerals. Different injuries may require different inputs. Scraping your knuckles would probably require more protein intake to help with recovering lost skin tissue. Setting a broken bone, for example, can cause some bone mass to be lost, in addition to muscle loss from disuse. Your skeleton is a "calcium bank" of sorts, and while your body can pull some calcium from the rest of your body to try to do repair work, you might drink more milk to help out the process. Likewise, a metabolic shift from stress or injury can cause your body to burn stored fat reserves. Differences in individual metabolism might complicate measuring caloric intake required to heal from different injuries.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:52 AM on January 29, 2009


I doubt you're going to get the sort of chart you seem to be thinking about because, as others have noted, extracting the calorie drain of specific physical processes from overall metabolism is going to be exceptionally difficult, maybe impossible, and there are too many variables to make any assessment meaningful (i.e. not all broken bones are the same). Looking around searches like this one may lead you to some food for thought at least. This link cites a figure for increased metabolism with increased temperature (fever) but who knows if it's a decent figure, it's got zero references.
posted by nanojath at 10:00 AM on January 29, 2009


This book, Nutrition and Wound Healing (edited by Joseph A. Molnar, 2007), is on google books and may provide some insight. From a quick scan I see:

Page 8: "Cuthbertson described the metabolic response to injury as consisting of an "ebb" phase and a "flow" phase. The "ebb" phase is the period of traumatic shock or hypometabolism during the first few hours or days after injury. This phase is soon replaced by the "flow" phase that is a period of hypermetabolism that may last for weeks or months depending on the nature of the injury and obstacles to recovery." It goes on a bit about the differing severity of injuries.

Page 20: "It is generally recognized that energy needs rise with the increased demands for wound healing. Although energy needs increase, this increase may not be at a level as significant as initially thought. Studies have shown that energy needs are ... " and then it references a table that is not in the google books preview.

If you're really curious about this, I bet you could track down a hard copy of the book.
posted by vytae at 10:08 AM on January 29, 2009


Here is a partial list of libraries that hold the book vytae mentioned above, sorted by proximity to Baltimore (if that's your location, Johns Hopkins can probably hook you up!).

This list of resources on the subject of Wound healing -- Nutritional aspects may also be helpful.
posted by onshi at 11:09 AM on January 29, 2009


I think one things to consider is that the body is constantly under repair. The places most likely to sustain an injury, like your skin, are constantly being renewed. A minor scrape is probably dealt with largely by the ongoing process of renewal. More serious injuries are another story, but I wonder, after the initial response, if the ongoing healing requires significantly more energy than the ordinary upkeep of the healthy tissue would.

All that said, it was surprising how a large lingering bruise on my wife's leg seemed to suddenly fade after a rare beef-rich dinner.
posted by Good Brain at 12:11 PM on January 29, 2009


Here is a paper on the subject from 1971; a bit technical perhaps but gives answers to a lot of the scenarios you asked about.
posted by TedW at 1:15 PM on January 29, 2009


TedW I got a page that said File not available. [S0029665171000326a.pdf]. Can you give me a citation?
posted by Grod at 5:36 PM on January 29, 2009


I am getting the same thing now; for whatever reason I can't get the link to work; it is, however the first result in this Google search and seems to work there. The other results might also be helpful to you. There is actually a large amount of medical literature on the subject, especially from surgeons and intensivists. Meeting nutritional requirements in critically ill patients is an important part of their recovery. Also, the body doesn't particularly care whether it was sliced open with a scalpel or a switchblade, so much of the literature on nutritional requirements following surgery also applies to trauma (although there is a large body of literature on nutrition and trauma as well).
posted by TedW at 6:28 AM on January 31, 2009


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