Stress Fracture: Everything You Need To Know

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Are you dealing with ongoing aches in your limbs and joints? Do you experience dull pain in your legs or feet when you are active that subsides once you cease movement?

If you answered “yes” to one or both these questions, it is possible you could be dealing with a stress fracture. Stress fractures are a common issue for athletes who engage in sports like tennis, gymnastics, basketball, and long-distance running, but they can occur with many other types of strenuous physical activities.

What Is A Stress Fracture?

Overview

A stress fracture is a minute crack in the bone caused by excessively strained muscles that cannot handle the ongoing pressure from collisions and impact. When the muscles cannot sustain this force any longer, the weight is placed on the bone itself, resulting in a stress fracture. These fractures occur most frequently in areas like the ankle, shin, and foot.

Causes

The most typical cause for a stress fracture is sheer overexertion. For sports enthusiasts and athletes, stress fractures are a common problem. However, they can also occur if you transition from a primarily inactive lifestyle to sudden bouts of physical exertion. For instance, if you walk for long periods or run when you normally are not physically active, you could be at risk for sustaining a stress fracture.

This is because your muscles have not become strengthened to handle the impact of the motion caused by such physical activities. Going from minimal activity to high activity creates a situation ripe for these tiny, hairline fractures.

Age and preexisting conditions may cause a stress fracture. For instance, adolescents in the growing stages may experience these slight fractures after ongoing impact because their bones are still developing and might not be completely hardened. If you have a preexisting condition that makes your bones more vulnerable, like osteoporosis, you could also be at risk.

Other common causes of a stress fracture include things like insufficient training or faulty exercise approaches during workout regimens. If you do not have the proper support like footwear when exercising, the undue strain on your feet and ankles could cause one of these minute fractures.a

Signs And Symptoms

Signs To Look For

If you think you might have sustained a stress fracture, there are key signs you need to look for. With this kind of fracture, you will probably experience pain that starts at a moderate level and increases gradually when you put weight on the affected area. You might notice the pain lessening or eliminated completely when you stop doing something that irritates like the injured region like your foot, or the area surrounding the shin or ankle.

With this kind of fracture, the injured region may hurt when you touch it and show signs of bruising. If the fracture is in your foot, ankle, shin, or somewhere nearby, you could feel an aching pain that sharpens as you walk. Other symptoms include ongoing aches and pains in your joints and limbs, pain that does not abate even when you rest, and an inability to perform certain activities as normal because of muscle weakness and lack of mobility.

The pain may not show up until a week or so after you complete a sudden strenuous activity, such as heightening your weight training or the vigor of your workout. You may even notice the pain becoming greater later in the day or at nighttime.

Reaching A Diagnosis

Once you suspect that a stress fracture may be causing your difficulties, there are several ways doctors can definitively diagnose the condition. Methods often include a look at your medical history and a wellness exam. Most of the time, imaging tests are required to reach a sure diagnosis.

Your doctor may order an x-ray, bone scan, or MRI to detect the fracture. With an x-ray, the fracture will not appear right away and may take over a month to show up fully. This type of imaging is not ideal if your pain has recently started since the scans may not see a fracture present just yet.

Before you have your bone scan, you will receive an IV of radioactive liquid that will gather in the parts of your body in which bones are trying to heal. On the imaging, these points show up as bright white spots. The test is not meant to detect a stress fracture only, but it can be a good way to help reach a diagnosis.

An MRI is one of the most effective ways to determine whether this hairline fracture is present as it implements radio waves and magnetic fields to form images of your bones. An MRI is especially helpful because it can detect fractures in the initial week after you first injure the area, even the minute kind. It is an excellent test to determine whether a stress fracture or soft tissue injury might be at play.

Treatment Options

Prevention Measures

Before delving into the treatment options available to treat a stress fracture, it is important to know of some prevention measures you can take to hinder the injury from occurring again the future. When implementing a new or more rigorous exercise regimen, take care to effect any changes gradually so you do not cause overt strain from too much impact to your body.

Whenever you play sports, exercise, or engage in any other strenuous physical activity, make sure you have the right support and use good footwear. Be sure you select shoes that fit you properly, are meant for the activity you will engage in, and will cushion your feet against harmful contact.

When planning out your regular exercise, be sure to engage in low-impact routines as well so you do not put too much stress at any one time on certain areas of your body. Finally, always make sure you are getting adequate nutrition and vitamins through your food and supplements. Choose sources filled with sufficient calcium, Vitamin D, and other elements essential for strong bones and overall wellness.

Get Plenty Of Rest

The first treatment to deal with a stress fracture is to get plenty of rest. Your doctor may advise a variety of treatments and this is one of the first that could come up. No matter where the area of the fracture may be, you need to minimize or eliminate activities that will cause undue stress to the region. If you do not sufficiently rest your body from the strain it has experienced, you could suffer a total fracture or even a break.

Keep It Cold

Next, putting plenty of ice and cold packs on the area of the stress fracture is an effective way to help treat your injury. Keeping the area cold can lessen your discomfort and bring down swelling.

Incorporate Medications

Your doctor may advise that you incorporate certain anti-inflammatory medications into your healing regimen for a time until the swelling and irritation goes down. Definitely use any medications with care as certain types can counteract the healing process. Always speak with your doctor before taking any inflammatory medications to treat your fracture like ibuprofen or aspirin.

For More Serious Fractures

If your stress fracture is severe or far-reaching enough, your doctor might have you use a walking boot, brace, or crutches to take your weight off the area. This allows the bone to heal sufficiently and reduces any undue impact on the hairline break.

On rare occasions, a stress fracture might require surgery to experience full healing. This is usually necessary if the area of the fracture is receiving insufficient blood flow. If you are an athlete that needs to return to your sport quickly, or your job requires you to put continuous strain on the injured point, surgery can offer a more expedient way to spur on the healing process.

How Long Does It Take To Recover?

Healing from a stress fracture usually takes about 6 to 8 weeks in total. During recovery, your doctor will typically recommend that any physical activities you engage in do not put weight on the affected area. Activities like biking or swimming might be acceptable, but speak with your physician to see what is best for your situation.

Conclusion

If you think you may have experienced a stress fracture, it is important to recognize and treat the injury before things progress too far. If you continue to engage in the high-impact activity or activities that caused the fracture in the first place, you put yourself at risk for a complete fracture or break down the line.

Speak with your doctor so you can have imaging performed and determine if a stress fracture exists. If so, be sure to follow all instructions given by your doctor to the letter, get plenty of rest, use ice to treat the affected area, and take an anti-inflammatory medication if required. To prevent this issue from arising again, take care to make any exercise program changes gradually, use the right foot support, and make sure you are getting sufficient nutrition through food and vitamin sources.