Stress fractures are a common injury, especially if you’re an athlete. They’re worse than a sprain but not quite as damaging as a full bone break. Still, stress fractures are something you should take seriously because they can become worse if you don’t.
Sports that require repetitive motions, such as basketball and running, can put you at greater risk of experiencing a stress fracture. Anyone can get a stress fracture, however, such as people who spend a lot of time on their feet. In this blog, the expert podiatrists at Rocky Mountain Foot & Ankle Center explain more about the signs of a stress fracture and how you can heal from it.
What is a stress fracture?
Stress fractures are tiny cracks in your bones. Repetitive motions are most likely to cause them, especially because many people try to play through the pain, which deepens the cracks. Sometimes also called hairline fractures, they’re a type of broken bone — a break that hasn’t gone deep yet.
Stress fractures usually can’t be seen on X-rays, so doctors have to use MRI or some other form of advanced technology to detect them. Stress fractures are most common in the feet and ankles because these bones are tiny and are often required to bear a lot of stress and strain.
What does a stress fracture feel like?
The signs of a stress fracture are usually pretty noticeable, although you may be inclined to brush them off as nothing of significance:
- Pain and tenderness in one area (such as your ankle) that lessens with rest
- Discomfort when you put pressure on the injured area, such as by standing up or moving
- Gradually worsening pain over time
- Bruising and, in some cases, swelling
Although stress fractures are more common in athletes, you can get them from activities as simple as stepping down the wrong way or even from walking. If you keep doing the same motions repeatedly, injuries are more likely to occur.
Who’s at greatest risk?
Stress fractures can happen to anyone because of their tendency to be caused by repetitive strain, especially on the delicate bones of the feet. But some people have specific risk factors that make them more likely to have this experience:
- Participating in sports or other athletic activities, such as running
- Trying to ramp up a new activity too quickly before your body is fully adapted
- Spending a lot of time on your feet
- Drinking 10 or more alcoholic drinks per week
- Eating disorders or deficiency in certain vitamins and minerals
- Being female
- Running more than 25 miles a week
- Previous stress fractures
By far, physical conditioning is one of the most important factors in determining risk for stress fractures. When you begin a new activity, always start slow and gradually build up to more intensity and longer duration or distance.
How to heal from a stress fracture
The first and simplest measure to heal from a stress fracture is just to take a break. Use the RICE method — rest, ice, compression, and elevation. We also can immobilize the affected bones when necessary.
Give your injured body part the time it needs to heal. In many cases, just a couple of weeks are all that’s needed. Ease back into activity to prevent reinjury.
Contact the providers at Rocky Mountain Foot and Ankle Center for more advice about how to recover from a stress fracture. We can also help your body to heal using physical therapy to help you gain strength. Call us today, or request an appointment online.