Could That Foot Pain Signal a Stress Fracture?

A stress fracture is a common overuse injury. While it often affects athletes, it can happen to anyone who participates in high-impact or repetitive activities. Almost half of all sports injuries are due to overuse. 

A stress fracture can develop when recurring actions exert repeated strain on a specific bone in your foot. A tiny, hairline crack can form at the site of the extra pressure, and this crack — called a stress fracture — can become bigger without treatment.

At Metairie Orthopedics & Sports Medicine in Metairie, Louisiana, Robert Douglas Bostick III, MD, provides expert diagnosis and treatment of stress fractures and other causes of foot and ankle pain. In this blog, Dr. Bostick explains the symptoms of a stress fracture and how these injuries are often treated.

Risk factors for developing stress fractures

A stress fracture can occur for a number of reasons. Here are some of the most common ones:

Engaging in high-impact activities

High-impact sports, such as basketball, running, and tennis, require repetitive actions that may make you more susceptible to developing stress fractures. 

Changing surfaces

You may also have a higher risk of developing a stress fracture if you change the surface you exercise on, such as switching from a treadmill to running outdoors. This could affect the way you put weight on your feet and introduce pressure to new and weaker areas.

Wearing the wrong gear

Wearing the wrong footwear or using improper equipment may leave your feet vulnerable to developing stress fractures.

Suddenly changing activities

You may develop a stress fracture if you change activities without properly preparing to engage in the new activity. If you want to start a new activity, make sure you condition yourself for it.

Physical characteristics and health issues

Certain physical characteristics may make you more susceptible to developing a stress fracture, such as being overweight. You can also have a higher chance of developing a stress fracture if you have certain medical conditions, such as osteoporosis, which can make your bones more brittle and vulnerable to stress.

Common symptoms of stress fractures

In general, stress fractures develop over time. And if the fracture isn’t treated, the symptoms can get worse and may even lead to a full break.

Initial signs

The initial sign of a stress fracture is often mild pain. It may be so mild, in fact, that you may brush it off as a temporary annoyance. Stress fractures of the feet usually affect the weight-bearing bones. These bones absorb the repetitive stress that occurs during activities, such as walking, running, or jumping. 

You may be more likely to notice the initial discomfort in your second and third metatarsal bones. These are long, slender bones that extend between your toes and ankles.

Progressing signs

While the first sign of a stress fracture may be tolerable, you may aggravate the condition if you don’t treat it properly. If you don’t give a stress fracture time to heal, the condition may become more serious and cause these symptoms:

Treating stress fractures

In general, treating a stress fracture requires taking weight off the affected foot and giving it time to heal. It can, however, be difficult to know if the pain you’re suffering is from a stress fracture, so it’s critical to seek professional care to get an accurate diagnosis. 

Diagnosing a stress fracture typically requires an imaging test, such as an X-ray or MRI. Once it’s determined that you have a stress fracture, your provider will likely recommend that you reduce weight on the affected foot. One common treatment is called the RICE method. RICE stands for rest, ice, compression, and elevation.

Your provider may also recommend taking nonsteroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs or prescribe a pain reliever to treat pain and swelling. And, if needed, your provider may recommend using a brace, walking boot, or crutches to immobilize the affected bone and support the healing process. 

If your stress fracture doesn’t heal correctly on its own, you may need surgery to repair the affected bone. Metal plates, pins, or screws may be used to permanently secure the bone.

To find out if you have a stress fracture and to get treatment if you do, book an appointment online or over the phone with Metairie Orthopedics & Sports Medicine today.

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