Stress Fractures

What is a Stress Fracture?

A stress fracture is a very small bone break, the result of continual overuse. Stress fractures are frequently the results of training for running, basketball, and other sports that involve high-impact, repetitive activity. Stress fractures can occur in many bones of the body, but the bones in the legs and feet are most likely to be subject to stress fracture. Runners are especially vulnerable.

A stress fracture can be so small that it can only be found using MRI, or bone scans. Stress fracture pain usually develops as activity increases, and lessens with rest.

Stress fractureTreatment for stress fracture is usually conservative. Athletes simply discontinue their normal activities for six to twelve weeks. During this time many resort to cross-training in another sport, such as swimming, in order to maintain endurance and cardiovascular health.

In most cases, with rest and relief, stress fractures usually heal themselves. When not treated appropriately, a stress fracture may eventually develop into a complete bone fracture that may require surgery and/or a cast.

Stress Fracture Symptoms

Stress fractures don't always cause obvious swelling. Symptoms can vary somewhat from person to person, and may include:

  • Pain at the forward part of the foot, particularly after very intense or prolonged exercise sessions.
  • Pain during exercise, which subsides once exercise has ended.

Stress Fracture Diagnosis

Stress fractures are often too fine for an X-ray to detect, so diagnosis may require bone scan or MRI.

Stress Fracture Treatment

Stress fracture treatment involves relieving pain and allowing the fracture time to heal. This usually takes between 6 and 8 weeks. The treatment your doctor chooses for your stress fracture will depend upon:

  • Your age, overall health, and health history
  • How serious your injury is
  • How well you are able to handle certain medicines, procedures, and therapies
  • How long your injury is expected to last
  • Your opinion or preference

Typical treatments for stress fracture may include:

  • Rest
  • Cold packs
  • Guarding the fracture site from bearing weight
  • Over-the-counter pain medication, such as ibuprofen
  • Exercise shoes that absorb impact shock
  • Physical therapy
  • Training on soft surfaces, such as grass
  • Choosing an activity that is less stressful, such as bicycling or swimming
  • Wearing a cast or brace

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