Stress fractures are fractures of the bone caused by repetitive stress. Repetitive stress includes any activity such as jumping or running that involves overuse of a particular area of the body.
Stress fractures are most common in the bones of the lower leg and foot and can arise from natural use of a bone that’s been weakened by a condition such as osteoporosis. Athletes are more prone to stress fractures; however, any individual that overuses a particular area of the body or starts a new fitness program can be at risk of experiencing a stress fracture.
Treatment options for a stress fracture typically involve immobilization of the affected area and surgery if necessary.
Common symptoms of stress fractures include:
- Pain that tends to worsen with time or while exercising, walking or standing
- Tenderness in the affected area
- Swelling around the affected area
The first cause of stress fractures is overuse, in which repetitive stress is put on the bones in a particular area of the body. The force is greater than the bones of the feet and lower legs normally bear so tiny cracks are formed in the weakened bones. These cracks progress to become stress fractures.
A simple change in an activity can cause a stress fracture. Examples include change in footwear, job duties, increase in exercise, development of a certain condition such as osteoporosis and others.
The risk of developing a stress fracture increases if the body is unable to absorb the forces of walking, running, or jumping; or if the bone is in a weakened condition before the force is applied. Bones of the feet, shin, thigh, and pelvis are at greatest risk for stress fractures.
A few factors that can increase the risk of stress fractures include the following:
- Being a woman with abnormal or deficient menstrual periods
- Increasing intensity, duration and frequency in fitness programs
- Participating in certain sports such as track, basketball, tennis or gymnastics
- Having foot problems (flat feet or high, rigid arches)
- Having certain conditions that involve weakening of bones (osteoporosis)
The most common complication that occurs with a stress fracture is nonunion. Nonunion is a permanent failure of healing of a broken bone. Other complications that might arise can include:
- Malunion: A healed bone in an abnormal position
- Recurrent fractures
Treatment options for stress fractures typically involve reducing pain and stress on the affected area until healing occurs. This is done by:
- Over the counter pain relievers: taking medications to help relieve symptoms associated with stress fractures
- Immobilization of the affected area: wearing a walking boot, brace or the use of crutches to reduce stress and decrease swelling
- Surgery, if necessary, to ensure proper healing of stress fractures
A few preventative measures that can help reduce stress fractures include the following:
- Maintaining a healthy diet/getting proper nutrition (calcium intake)
- Wearing proper foot attire
- Starting any new fitness program slowly and progressing little by little
- Adding low impact activities to physical activity program in order to avoid repetitive movements to a particular area of the body