Understanding a Stress Fracture
A stress fracture is a tiny crack in a bone in the foot or lower leg. These tiny cracks occur from a repetitive force, such as overuse. They can also occur from normal use if the bone has been weakened from osteoporosis or other conditions. While they may be more likely to occur from a repetitive force, such as in runners or military personnel, they can also occur when a patient starts a new exercise routine and tries to do too much too fast. Bone adapts to additional loads and uses gradually. Therefore, if there is a change too quickly or the bone is overused without sufficient rest, injury can occur.
Who is at Risk for a Stress Fracture?
While stress fractures can occur in any weight-bearing bone, there are patients who are at higher risk for developing a stress fracture. Patients with weakened bone density, such as through osteoporosis, may be vulnerable to a stress fracture. In addition, athletes in track and field and those in the military who carry heavy packs over a long period of time can experience stress fractures in the foot or lower leg. Those who are overweight, particularly if they gain weight quickly, are also at risk because stress fractures occur in weight-bearing bones. Those who have already had a stress fracture are also at risk. While these patients are at higher risk, anyone can get a stress fracture.
Signs and Symptoms of Stress Fractures
The primary symptom of a stress fracture is pain at the location of the injury. However, unlike a sprain or other minor injury, the pain from a stress fracture does not ease with time and healing. Instead, the pain persists and worsens if the patient does not seek treatment. Rest may temporarily ease the pain. Patients may also experience swelling at the site of the injury. Patients may also experience some bruising with the swelling. Patients who have pain that persists or worsens should seek advice from a medical professional.
Athletes at Risk for Stress Fractures
While anyone can get a stress fracture, there are athletes who are at greater risk than others. Athletes who are in track and field, for example, engage in a lot of running and weight-bearing activities. Others sports with lots of running, such as soccer, may also put athletes at risk for stress fractures as well as runner’s knee. New athletes are also at risk for stress fractures along with general sports injuries, particularly if they try to do too much before their bodies can adjust to the new exercise and athletic routine.
Recovery from a Stress Fracture
After a stress fracture has healed, it is important to take part in a recovery program that builds back up the muscles in the foot and leg slowly so as not to experience another injury. One way to help improve your strength during recovery is through physical therapy. Working with a trained professional can ensure that you can go back to sports, exercise, and regular daily life after a stress fracture without fear of re-injury. In addition, a physical therapist can help you reduce your risk of re-injury through advice about exercise, warming up before athletics, and other lifestyle changes.
If you are ready to start the recovery process after a stress fracture, call Arizona Institute of Motion today to set up an appointment with one of our experienced ortho foot and ankle surgery specialists!