Stress fractures are a relatively small “Crack” in the bone rather than a complete break. They can be caused by a variety of things. Especially from repetitive microtrauma in athletes like long-distance runners and certain vocations. Stress fractures are more common in the shin bone, heel, foot, and hip as well as the vertebrae in the lower back.
Stress Fracture Causes
Several factors can cause stress fractures or put you at higher risk of suffering one or more stress fractures. This includes both intrinsic and extrinsic factors as well as certain hobbies or lifestyle habits. They are more common with athletes as well as certain vocations that call for a lot of high-impact repetitive motions. This includes the following
- Improper techniques in athletic training
- Repetitive high impact training
- Training on a hard surface like concrete or asphalt
- Running on a track or a road with a sloped surface
- Long-distance running
- Playing basketball
- Track and field
- Poor shoes when working in a high-impact profession
Stress Fracture Risk Factors
Several factors can increase your risk of developing a stress fracture on your feet, lower body, or other parts of the body.
A poor diet with a low caloric intake or a diet that is low in vitamin D can lead to weakened bone tissues.
Excessive Athletic Participation
Young people who are multi-sport athletes who transition seamlessly from one sport to the next without sufficient rest and recovery time are at increased risk of developing stress fractures. The same is true for long-distance runners who don’t give their lower body some periodic downtime. This can be compounded by nutritional deficiencies.
Older individuals and older athletes tend to have lower bone density which can lead to issues such as osteoporosis. This can put you at increased risk of suffering a stress fracture.
Overweight individuals are at increased risk of suffering stress fractures in the lower back as well as the feet and lower extremities. This can be compounded by a lack of activity contributing to existing lowered bone density.
There is a wide range of anatomical conditions that can put you at risk of developing stress fractures. This is particularly an issue with foot problems like bunions, blisters, tendonitis, and low or high arches that can affect the way the foot strikes the ground.
Women can be at risk if they have irregular menstrual periods or no periods.
Medical Conditions That Affect Bone Density
Certain health conditions that affect bone density such as osteoporosis can significantly increase your risk of developing stress fractures. Especially if you are an older individual who has recently increased your activity level faster than your physician recommends.
Stress Fracture Symptoms
There are several stress fracture symptoms to be wary of. They can vary depending on the bone that is affected as well as your activity level. This includes:
- Swelling or persistent aching at the fracture site
- Pain when you step or impact the fractured bone
- Tenderness when touching the bone with a suspected stress fracture
- Pain that starts when you engage in a high-impact activity then improves with rest
- Pain that occurs during normal activities such as walking
- Pain that worsens when you hop or shift your weight
How Is A Stress Fracture Diagnosed?
There are several different tests that your physician might recommend to diagnose a stress fracture.
This is a common first step in diagnosing a stress fracture. It includes mechanical examination and testing your range of motion relative to your reported symptoms. Your physician will also collect information about your medical history, activity level, and take into account any medications you might be taking. During your first visit, your doctor will do a physical exam and discuss your risk factors for developing a
If your physician suspects you have a stress fracture, they will likely recommend an X-ray. Though not all stress fractures are easily detectable via an X-ray image. If this is the case, your physician might recommend you for an MRI.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging
Commonly known as an MRI this is a more accurate way to detect a stress fracture. Especially those that are places that can be hard for an X-ray to detect. It can also help to assess how the surrounding soft and connective tissues have been affected by the stress reaction.
A bone scan involves injecting a radioactive “Trace” substance into your bloodstream. The tracer then collects in the bone and settles in the areas where the bone is being repaired. The area that is affected by a stress fracture will appear darker on the bone scan than on an uninjured area.
Is It Bad Delay Treating A Stress Fracture?
A stress fracture that isn’t treated in the early stages has the high potential to worsen and become severe. This along with inflammation and other complications can complicate the treatment process. Certain stress fractures like those in the hips can even cause more severe breaks and dislocation as well as putting you at high risk for the early onset of arthritis in the nearby joint.
How Is A Stress Fracture Treated?
Stress fractures are treated in several ways. Your doctor will discuss your options based on the location and severity of your fracture. Also, your provider will aim to treat any risk factors you have for future injuries.
Rest & Icing
The first step in just about any stress fracture treatment strategy is rest. Activity cessation and reducing the impact on the affected bone will increase your body’s chances of healing the bone naturally. Though this is just the first step. Most stress fractures need additional measures to heal completely.
Periodically applying an ice pack for up to ten minutes at a time can help reduce inflammation. Your physician might recommend doing this three to five-time per day for six to eight weeks.
If your stress fracture is related to repetitive athletic activity, such as long-distance running, your physician might recommend alternative non-impact exercises such as cycling or swimming. This might also serve as a first step toward eventually starting low-impact exercises.
Light Duty Restriction
If your stress fracture is related to your vocation, your physician might put you on a light-duty restriction. Your employer can then find alternative tasks for you to perform while the stress fracture heals.
Taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines to help relieve pain and swelling. This might be indicated if localized inflammation is making it hard for your body to repair the stress fracture on its own.
Alternative Footwear Or Crutches
Protective footwear might be needed to reduce stress on your foot or leg. You might also need to use crutches to take pressure off of your feet while the stress fracture heals.
Surgery For A Stress Fracture
Most stress fractures will heal on their own with rest and other non-invasive treatments. Though some severe cases might require surgical intervention in the form of a procedure known as Internal Fixation. This is a surgical process that installs pins, screws, or metal plates to help stabilize the affected bone while helping it heal.