What is a stress fracture?
A stress fracture is a small crack or severe bruising within a bone. Most stress fractures are common in runners and athletes who participate in running sports, such as soccer and basketball. It occurs when the muscles become fatigued and unable to absorb added shock. Eventually, the fatigued muscle transfers the overload of stress to the bone causing tiny crack, a stress fracture.
(Picture Credit: www.foothealthfacts.org)
Symptoms of a stress fracture
The most common symptom of a stress fracture in the foot and ankle is pain. The pain usually develops gradually and worsens during weight-bearing activity. The pain can also occur and intensify during normal, daily activities. Other symptoms include swelling, redness and bruising.
Causes of stress fracture
Stress fracture is caused by overuse and repetitive activity. Forces that can cause a stress fracture include repeatedly jumping up and down or running long distances and hence, is a common condition amongst athletes.
It is also often a result of increasing amount or intensity of an activity too rapidly. They can also be caused by the impact of an unfamiliar surface (eg. sudden change in workout surface - soft clay to hard court), the trial of new workout (doing too much too soon) and improper footwear. In addition, if osteoporosis or other disease has weakened the bones, the risk of a stress fracture can be higher.
Where do stress fractures occur?
Most stress fractures occur in the weight-bearing bones of the lower leg and the foot. The most common sites for a stress fracture in the foot are the metatarsal bones. They occur over time when the repetitive forces caused microscopic damage to the bone. The repetitive force that causes a stress fracture is not great enough to cause an acute fracture, such as a broken ankle or a broken hip caused by a fall.
How are stress fractures treated?
The most important treatment is rest, reduce the bone’s weight bearing load and possible immobilization of the foot. Individuals need to rest from the activity that caused the stress fracture, and engage in a pain-free activity during the six to eight weeks it takes most stress fractures to heal. During the healing period, shoe inserts, walking boot, brace or crutches may be used to help these injuries heal. In some cases, surgery may be required to stabilize the stress fracture or to repair a stress fracture that has progressed to a fracture.
NOTE: If the activity that caused the stress fracture is resumed too quickly, more serious stress fractures can develop. Re-injury also could lead to chronic problems where the stress fracture might never heal properly.
Are there any suggestions to prevent stress fracture?
Here are some tips to help prevent stress fractures in the future:
Set incremental goals when participating in any new sports activity or work out. Gradually increase your time, speed and distance.
Cross train. Alternating activities that achieve the same fitness goals can help avoid over-stressing one area of your body - eg. alternate a high-impact sport like running with lower-impact sports such as swimming or cycling.
Add some strength training and flexibility exercises to your workout can also prevent early muscle fatigue and the loss of bone density that comes with aging.
Maintain a healthy diet. A balanced diet rich in calcium and vitamin D will help build bone strength.
Use proper equipment and footwear. Do not wear old worn footwear that is lack of supporting and not suit to function.
Seek help early. If pain or swelling occurs, immediately stop the activity and rest for a few days. It is important to remember that if you recognize the symptoms early and treat or seek help appropriately, you can prevent a lot of foot complications.