Orthopedic Specialists

Stress Fractures

December 29, 2020

One of the most common injuries in sports is a stress fracture. Stress fractures are tiny cracks in a bone.  They are caused by repetitive force, often from overuse such as repeatedly jumping up and down or running long distances, which fatigues the muscles making them unable to absorb added shock.  Stress fractures can also develop from normal use of a bone that is already weakened by a condition such as osteoporosis.  Most stress fractures occur in the weightbearing bones of the lower leg and foot.  More than 50% of all stress fractures occur in the lower leg.

Studies have shown athletes in track and field, gymnastics, tennis, and basketball are at increased risk for stress fractures due to the repetitive force on the legs and feet; but anyone can sustain a stress fracture.  If you go from no exercise to a new exercise routine and do too much too soon, you might sustain a stress fracture.  

You may barely notice the pain from a stress fracture, but it will worsen with time.  It will be tender in a certain spot and decrease with nonweightbearing.  You might have some swelling in the area.  If the pain becomes severe, you should seek treatment.  X-rays may not show a stress fracture initially.  Sometimes the fracture cannot be seen or may not show up for several weeks after the pain starts.

The most important treatment for stress fractures is rest.  Patients will need to rest from the activity that caused the fracture.  These fractures may take 6 to 8 weeks to completely heal. 

Here are some tips from the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons to help prevent stress fractures:
•    When participating in any new sports activity, set incremental goals.  For example, do not immediately set out to run five miles a day; instead, gradually build up your mileage on a weekly basis. 
•    Cross-training – alternating activities that accomplish the same fitness goals – can help to prevent injuries like stress fractures.  Instead of running every day to meet cardiovascular goals, run on even days and bike on odd days.  Add some strength training and flexibility exercises to the mix for the most benefit. 
•    Maintain a healthy diet.  Make sure your incorporate calcium and Vitamin D rich foods in your meals. 
•    Use the proper equipment.  Do not wear old or worn running shoes. 
•    If pain or swelling occurs, immediately stop the activity and rest for a few days.  If continued pain persists, call us for an evaluation. There may be something else causing the pain.

It is important to remember that if you recognize the symptoms early and treat them appropriately, you can return to sports at your normal playing level.  Whenever pain persists that makes you question if you have a stress fracture or other injury, please call us for an appointment at 515-955-6767.  No referral is necessary.  A stress fracture may be a setback, but with proper treatment, our staff will have you participating in your favorite activities again in no time.  

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