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August 21, 2017 | Orthopedics
Often caused by overuse and repetitive force, stress fractures are tiny cracks in a bone. They’re most common in the weight-bearing bones of the legs and feet, and while anyone can have a stress fracture, people who place more pressure on these areas regularly (such as track-and-field athletes, for instance) are at higher risk.
There are ways to treat stress fractures, and for people at higher levels of risk, there are prevention methods that can be done.
Pain is the primary symptom in stress fractures. In some cases, you might barely notice this pain at first—stress fracture pain tends to increase with time. Tenderness will often originate in a particular spot and decrease during rest. In some cases, you’ll have swelling around the painful area.
If stress fractures do not heal properly, they can lead to chronic pain. Additionally, if underlying causes of the fracture are not addressed, you’ll be at higher risk for future stress fractures.
Stress fractures are caused by repetitive force on bones. This can often result from increasing amount or intensity of activities too quickly—bones adapt gradually to increased loads, but if it’s subjected to large force without enough time for recovery, this can lead to higher levels of risk for a fracture.
Specific factors that can increase your risk of a stress fracture include:
In some cases, it will only take a medical history and a physical exam for your doctor to diagnose a stress fracture. In others, imaging test like X-rays, bone scans or MRIs might be used to properly identify them.
The most important part of treatment for a stress fracture is rest from the activity that caused it. You may have to wear a walking boot or use crutches during healing. In most cases, the basic healing process takes between six and eight weeks.
It’s unusual, but in some cases, surgery will be necessary to ensure complete healing, especially if the fracture occurs in an area with poor blood supply. Athletes or laborers whose work involves the stress fracture site may choose surgery for a quicker return.
A few simple steps can help prevent stress fractures:
If you have sustained a stress fracture, speak to your doctor, who can help with diagnosis and offer a treatment plan if a fracture is confirmed.
“Stress fractures.” The Mayo Clinic. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/stress-fractures/home/ovc-20232072
“Stress Fractures.” American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=a00112
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This information is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. You should always consult your doctor before making decisions about your health.