What is a stress fracture?
A stress fracture is a tiny, shallow break in the surface of a bone that can cause pain or discomfort. Stress fractures usually occur in the bones of the feet and ankles and do not spread through the full thickness of the bone. Sometimes stress fractures are known as ‘hairline’ fractures[i].
What causes a stress fracture?
Stress fractures are commonly caused through overuse of a particular muscle. The muscle can become tired and unable to absorb shocks, leading to a greater impact on the bone. This can happen if you start a new sport or begin exercising with greater intensity too quickly. Other things that can cause stress fractures include:
- High impact sports on hard surfaces, such as tennis or indoor football
- Wearing poorly fitted footwear whilst exercising
Women are also at a greater risk of developing a stress fracture than men. This is due to different hormone levels, making the bones more fragile and prone to damage.
How is a stress fracture diagnosed?
An x-ray will often be used to diagnose a stress fracture, however it may not be visible until a few weeks after the injury has occurred. If this is the case, a CT scan or MRI may be needed for diagnosis.
Treatment and recovery
The best way to treat a stress fracture is to rest the affected bone, giving it time to heal. This means stopping the activity that was causing the pain for 6-12 weeks. It is important not to resume the activity too quickly as this can cause larger stress fractures that are harder to heal. You can still take part in lower-intensity activities during this time though. Cushioned shoe inserts or boots can also help the injury to heal[ii].
The majority of stress fractures will recover with rest and time. Some rare cases may need surgery if they do not heal properly, and our foot and ankle specialists will be able to advise on the best approach in this situation.
[i] Patient.info, Lowth, M. (2019). Stress Fractures. [online]. Available at: https://patient.info/doctor/stress-fractures [Accessed 18 Jan. 2019].
[ii] Orthoinfo.aaos.org. (2019). Stress Fractures. [online] Available at: https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases–conditions/stress-fractures/ [Accessed 18 Jan. 2019].