Understanding Stress Fractures

We all know about the term ‘fracture’ which is a break down in bones. Fractures most of the time happen due to car accidents, sports injuries, lifting heavy weights or falling. But what are stress fractures? Follow along to learn more.

A stress fracture is defined as a small fracture or a thin crack in the bone due to overuse and repetitive force on the specific bone area. Outer bones of the lower leg, your shin bone, thigh bone, heel bone and the bone in the top of your foot may more often experience a stress fracture because these bones carry the whole weight of the body.

Symptoms of a Stress Fracture

Continuous stress on a bone causes microscopic damage and it disrupts the bone’s integrity and strength. This is recognized with the help of X-rays. Common symptoms of a stress fracture include pain in your ankle or foot. Generally this pain worsens during weight lifting activities. Other symptoms of a stress fracture include:

  • Tenderness at the spot of the fracture
  • Pain that lessens during rest
  • Swelling at the top of the foot
  • Pain that occurs after the normal activity.

Causes of Stress Fractures

A stress fracture often happens when you engage in a new activity which causes severe pain in your joints. Other common causes include:

  • Muscle fatigue following repetitive work
  • Improper footwear
  • Natural foot problems like tendonitis and blisters, etc.
  • Exercising excessively or starting physical activity after prolonged sedentary behavior
  • Change in your terrain, including things like walking on a rough or uneven road
  • Suffering from other conditions may affect your bone’s strength like osteoporosis
  • Insufficient levels of vitamin D

Treatment & Recovery from a Stress Fracture

Stress fractures take 6 to 8 weeks for recovery. People ignore stress fractures, which often leads to other diseases. Speak with your doctor as soon as possible if you suspect a stress fracture, otherwise your bone may break completely. Possible treatments for stress fractures are provided below:

  • RICE 

Doctors at the initial stage often recommend RICE treatment which is includes Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation.

  • Physical Therapy 

Physical therapy helps boost up the muscle’s flexibility and strength. It is sometimes more successful in conjunction with a walking boot or a brace fitted with some crutches. This limits the amount of weight on the compromised bone.

  • Anti-Inflammatory drugs 

If you want to recover from stress fractures quickly, you may choose to use a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug. NSAIDs may help to reduce your pain and swelling initially.

  • Nonsurgical treatment 

A nonsurgical approach to stress fractures generally involves a combination of anti-inflammatory drugs and some type of stabilization to protect your injured bone from further damage.  Specific footwear may also be recommended.

Surgical Treatment for Stress Fractures

Some severe cases of stress fracture require surgery. This involves adjusting your bones with the help of screws, pins, and plates, etc. to maintain stability.

How Can A Stress Fracture Be Avoided?

While it is not always possible to avoid a stress fracture, there are things you can do to limit your risk. These include:

  • Eating a healthy diet and especially getting adequate amounts of vitamin D and calcium
  • Maintaining an active life with regular exercise
  • Avoiding overuse injuries
  • Using appropriate equipment to protect your bones
  • Modifying activities that may put you at risk for a bone fracture
  • Wearing supportive and comfortable footwear

If you are concerned about your risk of a stress fracture, you may want to consider getting a bone mineral density test to evaluate your risk. For additional information about stress fractures, or to schedule an appointment with a board certified orthopaedic surgeon, contact Dr. Grossfeld at 502-212-2663.