A stress fracture is a common overuse injury most often seen in athletes. Usually, a fracture, or broken bone, is caused by an acute event, such as a car crash or a fall. When this is the case, the bone experiences a very high force that causes the stress fracture.
A stress fracture occurs when the forces are much lower, but happen repetitively for a long period of time; these injuries are also known as “fatigue fractures.” Stress fractures are commonly seen in athletes who run and jump on hard surfaces, such as distance runners, basketball players, and ballet dancers.
A stress fracture can occur in any bone, but is commonly seen in the foot and shin bones. They rarely occur in the upper extremity because the weight of your body is not supported by your arms as it is in your legs.
Symptoms of a stress fracture include:
- Tenderness in a specific spot
- Increased swelling and pain with activity
- Decreased swelling and pain with rest
- Earlier onset of pain with each successive workout
- Continued pain at rest as the damage progresses
At first, stress fractures may be barely noticeable. But pay attention to the pain. Proper self-care and treatment can keep the stress fracture from worsening.
The best treatment is almost always resting the injured leg. If there is no evidence that the stress fracture may displace, then avoiding the overuse activity may be sufficient treatment. However, if there is a concern of displacement of the stress fracture, then weight-bearing should be avoided (i.e. use crutches), and a cast may be placed. One rule of thumb (but not an absolute rule) is: if there is pain, don’t do it. This means if jogging causes pain where you have a stress fracture, don’t jog. If walking causes pain in that location, use crutches.
Other general stress fracture treatment principles include:
- Ice the injured area
- Wear proper equipment, specifically footwear
- Increase activities gradually
If pain develops and persists, seek medical advice