Medically reviewed by Adam Ploeg, MS, ATC McLeod Sports Medicine
A runner, a military recruit and a basketball player may be different in their type of activity but all can experience pain in their feet due to a stress fracture. It is a cross-section of the most common people who might suffer from the orthopedic issue of a stress fracture. Women seem to be more at risk than men.
WHAT IS A STRESS FRACTURE?
“When the body exerts more stress than muscles, tendons, and ligaments can handle – especially repetitive movements, such as running – then ultimately the bones end up absorbing the shock, which is not ideal,” says McLeod Sports Medicine Certified Athletic Trainer Adam Ploeg. “Especially if the bones are weak, over the course of several weeks or months a so-called ‘micro-fracture’ or small crack can occur. If left untreated, the stress fracture can result in a full fracture, and in some cases, may require surgery.”
WHAT CAUSES STRESS FRACTURES
Stress fractures can result if you rapidly increase the amount or intensity of an activity. For instance, runners taking on more distance than usual or an athlete playing significantly longer that they have in the past.
An ill-fitting, worn or too stiff shoe can also lead to a stress fracture.
Insufficient rest between workouts or competitions can also lead to stress fractures.
Osteoporosis, which is a weakening of the bones, can trigger stress fractures with only a small amount of pressure.
Smoking and more than 10 alcoholic drinks a weeks also puts you at higher risk of this injury.
Although lower extremities are the most common to be injured with stress fractures, gymnasts can suffer them in the spine, golfers in the ribs or an overhead throwing motion from an athlete (football, baseball, volleyball) in the upper arm.
STRESS FRACTURE SYMPTOMS
You are most likely to notice tenderness, swelling or pain at the site of the fracture. It will worsen when you put pressure or weight on it. With rest, the pain decreases.
DIAGNOSING THE PROBLEM
Your Orthopedic Specialist may take X-rays. A CT scan or a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) test can also be ordered. The MRI may be the preferred test since there is no radiation needed.
HOW CAN YOU TREAT IT?
It is likely your Orthopedic Specialist will recommend rest, refraining from the activity that caused the fracture. If rest does not help, the fracture can lead to a hard-to-heal fracture, requiring more extensive bracing or a cast or in worse cases a chronic problem or surgery.
You may be prescribed pain-relieving medication, such as ibuprofen (Advil) or acetaminophen (Tylenol). Braces, shoe inserts or pneumatic braces are also used in treating a stress fracture.
WHEN CAN I GET BACK INTO ACTION?
Expect 4 to12 weeks for the micro-fracture to heal, depending on the severity of the injury. To speed your recovery, listen closely to your Orthopedic Specialist’s instructions.
OTHER ARTICLES YOU MAY FIND USEFUL
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Strains, Sprains and Tears: Common Knee Ligament Injuries
Find an Orthopedic Specialist near you.
Sources include: McLeod Health, American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, American Orthopedic Foot & Ankle Society, American College of Sports Medicine, American Association of Family Physicians, American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine