A stress fracture is a break of the bone. This thin crack develops over time from prolonged and repeated forces on the bone. Stress fractures occur most often in the bones of the foot, ankle, hips, and leg, and they are commonly seen in athletes.
What are stress fractures?
A stress fracture occurs along a bone segment. It is essentially a tiny hairline break of the bone. This is often caused by overuse, overtraining, or improper training habits. Things that contribute to stress fractures include the wrong shoes, having a flatfoot, or osteoporosis.
What is the difference between a stress fracture and true fracture?
A stress fracture occurs from repeated trauma from running, dancing, or jumping. A true break results from severe, forceful trauma, which occurs from falling from a ladder, landing hard on a leg, or suffering a serious blow to the hip. If you jog every day, over time, the repeated impact causes the bone to crack and break, which creates a stress fracture.
What are the symptoms of a stress fracture?
A stress fracture causes mild pain that is worse with activity. The pain is usually felt deep in the foot, ankle, or leg, and is described as throbbing, aching, and squeezing. The pain associated with stress fracture worsens with yard work, jumping, climbing stairs, and running. Swelling may or may not appear with the stress fracture. Many patients also have redness and bruising over the area of the stress fracture, but this is not common.
What causes a stress fracture?
A stress fracture is not a life-threatening condition. Rather, it is a hairline break in the bone. The break does not cause any problems, and if you receive professional medical attention, it will heal without complications. Repeated stress to the bone means that the small crack becomes bigger and bigger. Stress fractures are commonly seen among runners, dancers, gymnasts, and people who participate in physical activity on the weekends.
How is a stress fracture treated?
The most common course of action is rest, immobilization, and use of crutches. Soft cases and walking boots sometimes are used, but this depends on the injury. The doctor will ask that you refrain from certain activities, such as dancing, running, or jumping. Anti-inflammatory agents are used for pain and inflammation. The more severe the injury, the longer it will take to heal. Most stress fractures heal with conservative measures, but some require surgery. Surgery involves bone grafting, which involves placing fresh bone along the fractured components and securing this with screws.
How common is stress fracture?
Stress fractures account for around 10% of all sports medicine injuries. Athletes and those who participate in athletic activities are more often to have these injuries. The highest incidence of stress fractures occur in track-and-field athletes. According to a recent study, 15% of stress fractures occur in runners, which accounts for 70% of all injuries. In addition, dancers most often injure the metatarsal, which is a bone in the foot. Ribs stress fractures are more common among golfers, whereas runners often injure the lower leg bones (tibia and fibula).
Fredericson M, Jennings F, Beaulieu C, & Matheson GO (2006). Stress fractures in athletes. Top Magn Reson Imag, 17(5), 309-325.
Romani WA, Gieck JH, Perrin DH, et al. (2002). Mechanisms and Management of Stress Fractures in Physically Active Persons. J Athle Train, 37(3) 306-314.