| Understanding Stress Fractures
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Understanding Stress Fractures

Understanding Stress Fractures

Stress fractures are a relatively common occurrence, and typically the result of some kind of repetitive physical activity.  They present as a very thin, hairline fracture along a bone as opposed to a bone-breaking in half.  Most stress fractures occur in the foot or lower leg because these bones carry a majority of the body weight.  Stress fractures make up about 2% of all sports injuries in athletes.  Fortunately, stress fractures can be treated, are not permanently debilitating, and with correct treatment, allow patients to get back to their normal, active ways of life.

Some patients may not realize they have a stress fracture.  The pain of a stress fracture is different from the pain of a break caused by a forceful trauma.  Some of the main symptoms of a stress fracture include minor pain or weakness near the break, pain when the area is touched, and pain brought on by normal activity and relieved by rest.  Even if a person does not realize they have a stress fracture initially, the pain will continue to get more severe until it is felt, and left untreated; the fracture can cause the bone to become displaced.

There are many different causes of stress fractures.  Jumping into hardcore exercise after a stint of not working out can cause the bones to become too taxed and eventually lead to a stress fracture.  Poor technique, too much-repeated activity, improper footwear, and vitamin D deficiency can all lead to stress fractures as well.  Because stress fractures initially present with mild pain, much unlike a normal break, people may not realize they have a stress fracture for quite some time.  While stress fractures are easily healed with treatment, leaving a stress fracture untreated can lead to severe problems.

Without treatment, stress fractures can go on to get worse and cause more pain, lead to a complete break, displace the affected bone, or it can even lead to arthritis.  For these reasons, it is important to get stress fractures accurately diagnosed and treated as soon as possible.  Once diagnosed, the most important treatment for a stress fracture is to temporarily stop whatever activity led to the fracture in the first place.  Basic first aid, consisting of rest, ice, and elevation, is typically enough to help fix most mild stress fractures.  It takes about 6-8 weeks for a stress fracture to heal completely.  Beginning exercise again before the bone is fully healed puts the bone at risk for a complete break or more problems down the road.

Stress fractures can make it very difficult for athletes and people who work out consistently.  One of the best ways to avoid stress fractures and maintain an active lifestyle is to cross-train.  Changing up the types of exercise you partake in can help avoid stress fractures while still allowing you to maintain a hefty exercise regimen.  Stress fractures are, fortunately, easily healed as long as given the proper time to rest.  While it can be difficult to hold back on working out for a couple of months, the long term benefits are worth the wait.

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