Stress Fractures

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Stress Fractures: We can help you get out of your pain

You know the exhilaration you feel when you find a new activity you enjoy—such as learning to play tennis, or finding out that you love trail running. Your enthusiasm could lead to trouble, however, if you don’t begin the new activity slowly. Repetitive trauma to your feet and lower legs could lead to a stress fracture that will put an end to your enjoyment for several weeks.

Not “Just a Stress Fracture”

A common misconception is that because the bone doesn’t break into two pieces, it is not really a fracture. However, a look at their structure shows bones have a hard outer layer with a softer spongy layer inside. Even the smallest hairline crack in that outer surface compromises that structure and qualifies as a fracture.

Besides that, pain from a surface crack can be quite severe and debilitating, even though the bone remains in one piece. It needs to go through the same healing process as any other break. Old bone tissue is constantly being resorbed into the blood and re-deposited as new harder tissue in the outer layers.

Are Your Bones at Risk of Surface Breaks?

Most of the time this type of fracture results from overuse. There are a number of factors which can make these injuries more likely, including:

  • Being female
  • Having osteoporosis, or thinning bones
  • Lack of calcium and vitamin D in your diet
  • Excessive pronation (foot movement) during your stride
  • Weak or fatigued muscles that don’t protect your bones from trauma
  • Sudden increase in activity
  • Playing sports involving repetitive trauma to the feet and legs (especially tennis, basketball, gymnastics, and track and field)

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What Stress Fractures Feel Like

The problem will manifest gradually, with slight pain that gets worse over time. It will likely be worse while you are active and go away when you are at rest. The injured area may also swell and turn red and warm. This is due to extra fluid your body sends to repair the injury and inflammation as the cells try to heal.

The most common bones affected are the metatarsals—the long bones in your feet between the toes and the ankle area—with pain felt along the top of the foot. However, the heel, small leg bone, and the talus and navicular bones near your ankle are also at risk.

How We Treat Hairline Cracks

After thoroughly examining the foot and studying X-rays, MRIs or bone scans to correctly diagnose the injury, we can determine the best treatment method for your broken bone. Because it needs rest to heal, we will usually apply an anti-inflammatory dressing and immobilize the affected foot with a soft cast or air boot for a couple of weeks. If the crack is severe, we will also have you use crutches to reduce as much weight-bearing as possible for a few weeks.

During healing, we may prescribe laser therapy and ultrasound treatments to relieve pain and promote cell activity for a quicker recovery. It is very important to allow the break to heal fully, in order to prevent chronic problems in the bone. For that reason, we may also investigate whether you have gait problems or other issues that might cause the injury to reoccur. We may be able to prevent future injury by designing custom orthotics that protect your feet from stress.

Preventing Stress Fractures

You can reduce your chances of getting this painful injury by starting new activities gradually, cross-training with low-impact activities, wearing supportive shoes and replacing them when they start to show wear, and taking a break if pain symptoms appear. Your diet should include foods rich in the nutrients needed for bone growth, and you should get enough rest—because that is when your body repairs tissue damage.

For more tips for healthy feet, or to get help for a painful foot issue, contact Ottawa Foot Practice in Ontario. You can reach us by phone at (613) 595-9700 or by requesting an appointment online through our contact page. Foot pain is not normal, so let us help you find the cause and eliminate it.

What Stress Fractures Feel Like
Frequently Asked Questions

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