Stress Fractures

Stress fractures start as tiny cracks in the bone and if left untreated can grow into an actual fracture of the bone. They are usually caused in high-impact sports with a lot of repetitive motions such as running and jumping.

Their occurrence and severity can also be aggravated by conditions such as osteoporosis that weaken the bone structure.

The symptoms of this injury are usually a localized pain and can be painful when you touch the injured area.

The pain will normally increase with exercise and activity and decrease with rest.

Pain that persists during inactivity may be a sign of a worsening condition.

You may even notice swelling at the point of the stress fracture.

Stress fractures are commonly found in athletes that participate in high-impact sports, such as running, tennis, basketball, and gymnastics. Runners that experience this injury usually get them in their lower legs and feet.

Other activities such as hiking and walking can also cause these fractures, especially in people that try to do too much too soon without proper rest intervals.

People with osteoporosis and adolescents that are still growing can be more susceptible because of their reduced bone strength. Women athletes can also be more susceptible to this injury because their bone width is smaller and is quicker to succumb to repeated physical stresses. In the military, female boot camp recruits are 10 times more likely to get a stress fracture than their male peers.

Unlike an injured muscle or tendon, stress fractures involve the bone and can take a longer time to heal. If you notice the types of localized pain described above, you should probably see your physician.

The only way to gauge the type and severity of this injury is a bone scan, MRI, or other scanning procedures that can detect the small stress cracks on the bone.

Prevention and Treatment

  • Slow & Steady Wins the Race: Make sure that your fitness routine allows for gradual improvements over time. Go from a sedentary lifestyle to exercising 5 days a week can put a lot of stress on your body without giving yourself a chance to rest and rebuild. This continued stress can led to this and other types of injuries.
  • Lessen the Impact: One way to reduce the force being transmitted from the shock of running and jumping is to ensure that your shoes have adequate cushioning. Running shoes can loose a lot of their cushioning after 400 miles of running. The times that I have tried to stretch my shoes use past this point, I’ve felt increased pain in my knees and hips. Another way to lessen the impact is to run on softer surfaces and to mix in use of exercise equipment such as elliptical and treadmill, when available.
  • Corrective Footwear: If you are flat-footed or have a rigid high arch, you are transmitting more force through your bones than the neutral-footed athlete. Stability shoes and molded inserts can help reduce some of this pounding and lower risk of getting injured in the process.
  • If Injured…Rest!: Rest is the number one prescription for overuse injuries such as this one. Bones take time to heal, and you’ll likely need to take some time off to let your injury heal. This can range from 2-3 weeks to several weeks, depending on the severity of the fracture. The earlier you catch the injury, the better chance that you can reduce your training downtime. Taking the weight off the injured leg and icing the area of pain can also help in the healing process.

Stress fractures are an injury that should be taken seriously. If the pain is ignored, there is the chance for a complete bone fracture and bone-pinning surgery which can take many months to full recover from.

Be smart. Pay attention to small aches and pains…you’ll be much happier that you did in the long run!

Leave Stress Fractures & Return to Common Injuries

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