When most people think of broken bones or fractures, they imagine a traumatic incident—car crash, bad fall, sports-related collision, etc.—that causes a displacement of a bone. But in reality, one of the most common sports-related fracture injuries, stress fractures, isn’t caused by a singular trauma and doesn’t push bones out of place.
Bones Under Stress
A stress fracture is an overuse injury that creates a tiny crack in a bone, caused by repeating pounding from activities such as running or playing high-impact sports like basketball or tennis. Playing too long, too hard, too often causes muscles to become fatigued over time, as they lack the necessary time to recover after exercise. Weak muscles lose their ability to absorb the impacts of running and jumping, transferring the load of that force onto the bones in your foot. Eventually, the bones crack under the stress.
The primary symptoms of stress fractures are pain, swelling, and tenderness, particularly on the top of the foot or just outside the ankle. Discomfort tends to start out dull but builds gradually over time, increasing during periods of activity and subsiding (at least somewhat) afterward.
If you suspect a stress fracture, give your feet a break and call Family Foot and Ankle Center, Inc. A full diagnosis usually requires an X-ray to determine the presence, location, and severity of any crack in the bone, as well as to rule out any other potential sources of pain.
Relieving the Pressure
The good news is that stress fractures usually require no special treatment other than rest. The bad news, especially for the active athlete, is that the healing process requires time—often a break of six weeks or more from the kind of high-impact, weight-bearing activity that caused the injury in the first place.
In some cases, particularly when the crack in bone is more severe or is at risk of becoming displaced, rest alone won’t be quite enough. More aggressive treatment methods may involve immobilizing your foot or ankle with a walking boot, brace, or cast, or inserting fasteners (such as pins, plates, or screws) to hold bones in place as they heal.
Although the pain may go away relatively quickly, it’s important to fully follow your doctor’s instructions and not rush back into activity; if you don’t give your bones the full amount of time they need to heal, you can quickly undo whatever healing has already taken place. Depending on the severity of your injury you may require a full break from high-impact exercise for several weeks, followed by gradually returning to regular activity.
Preventing the Pain
As an overuse injury, stress fractures can usually be prevented by making a few lifestyle modifications. Ease into new activities gradually, starting slow and increasing intensity by 10 percent or so per week. Alternate between your main sport and low-impact activities like cycling or swimming—this gives your bones time to rest.
Building bone strength and density can also help your bones stand up to the force of repeated impacts, particularly among aging athletes. Strength training and a diet rich in calcium and Vitamin D will help you increase this resistance.
A stress fracture can make it very difficult for you to enjoy your favorite activities or even go about your daily tasks without pain. Although no one likes to take a lengthy break from cherished sports or routines, visiting the experts and committing to a full recovery plan is always the smartest move in the long run, and the best way to get you back to full speed as quickly as possible.
Let Greater Cincinnati’s leaders for podiatric sports injury care help. Call Family Foot and Ankle Center, Inc. today and let us help you recover from painful stress fractures. Dial (513) 728-4800 or (859) 282-1572 and schedule an appointment today.