Stress fractures are notoriously misdiagnosed and undertreated. In many cases, symptoms may persist for an extended period of time before the diagnosis of a stress fracture is even made. That’s because stress fractures don’t typically occur from an unforeseen trauma, as with a sprain, but rather from repetitive stress.
What Are Stress Fractures?
Stress fractures are tiny, hairline breaks in the bones. They can occur in any bone, but most often afflict the weight-bearing bones of the lower leg and foot. Athletes are especially susceptible to stress fractures, as this common injury is often a problem of overuse. It frequently results from overtraining and high impact sports, such as running, basketball and tennis. People with an abnormal foot structure or insufficient bone may also be more vulnerable to suffer a stress fracture.
What Are the Symptoms of Stress Fractures?
Pain is the primary symptom of a stress fracture. In the early stages, the pain may begin toward the end of an activity and resolve with rest. Untreated, the pain will eventually persistent with minimal activity.
The most common symptoms of stress fractures include:
- Pain with or following normal activity
- Pain at the site of the fracture
- Tenderness and swelling at a point on the bone
- Pain intensified with weight bearing
Rest, ice, compression, and elevation are recommended as an initial treatment plan for stress fractures. You should also minimize all weight-bearing activities until you have fully recovered. Other treatments may include immobilization of the foot, footwear modifications, orthotic devices and in some severe cases, surgery. Rest is the key to a full recovery, and returning too quickly to normal activity may result in more serious damage.
Overuse injuries and stress fractures aren’t completely unavoidable, but you can take extra care to help prevent stress fractures from occurring. Remember to increase any activity or training program slowly and gradually. Wear supportive footwear with good cushioning to help manage the forces placed on your feet and legs during high impact activities. If pain or swelling returns, stop the activity and rest for a few days.
Stress fractures come on gradually and may not present obvious symptoms at first, so it’s important to recognize the early warning signs to prevent further damage. If you suspect a stress fracture, contact our office right away for an evaluation. Proper diagnosis is essential to prevent further damage and improve recovery time, as stress fractures tend to get worse and may even lead to a complete break if not treated right away. A podiatrist will examine your foot or ankle, take an x-ray to determine if there is a break or crack in the bone, and recommend an appropriate treatment plan for optimal recovery.