Stress fractures occur when the muscles become fatigued and cannot absorb added shock, causing the muscle’s load to transfer to the bone, causing a tiny crack known as a stress fracture.
Let’s talk about the causes, symptoms, and recovery process for stress fractures.
What Are Stress Fractures?
Stress fractures are tiny cracks in a bone that occur over time due to repetitive force, often from overuse, such as repeatedly jumping or running long distances.
While they can happen in various bones subjected to repetitive stress, they’re most commonly seen in the weight-bearing bones of the lower leg and foot.
Causes of Stress Fractures
Stress fractures are injuries that often result from a sudden increase in the amount or intensity of physical activity. The bone adapts gradually to increased loads through a process called remodeling. This process involves the resorption (destruction) and rebuilding of bone tissue, which accelerates when the load on the bone increases.
However, if the bones are subjected to unaccustomed force without enough recovery time, they resorb cells faster than the body can replace them. This imbalance makes the bones more susceptible to a stress fracture.
Several factors can increase your risk of developing a stress fracture. These include:
Stress fractures are more common in people who participate in high-impact sports, such as track and field, basketball, tennis, dance, or gymnastics. These sports involve repetitive impact activities that can put excessive stress on the bones.
Individuals who suddenly shift from a sedentary lifestyle to an active training regimen or those who rapidly increase the intensity, duration, or frequency of their training sessions are more likely to develop a stress fracture. This is because their bones may not have enough time to adapt to the increased stress levels.
Women, particularly those with abnormal or absent menstrual periods, are at higher risk of developing stress fractures. Hormonal changes and lower bone density associated with irregular menstrual cycles can contribute to this increased risk.
People with flat feet or high, rigid arches are more prone to stress fractures. These foot structures can alter the distribution of stress across the foot.
Additionally, worn footwear that does not provide adequate support can exacerbate the problem.
Conditions that weaken the bones, such as osteoporosis, can make it easier for stress fractures to occur. Weaker bones are less able to withstand normal levels of force and impact, making them more susceptible to injury.
Previous Stress Fractures
If you’ve had one or more stress fractures in the past, you’re at higher risk of having more. This could be due to structural or biomechanical issues that make your bones more vulnerable to stress.
Lack of Nutrients
Eating disorders and lack of essential nutrients like vitamin D and calcium can weaken bones, making them more likely to develop stress fractures. These nutrients are crucial for bone health and strength, and a deficiency can affect the bone remodeling process.
Symptoms of Stress Fracture
Symptoms of stress fractures can vary, but the most common ones are pain and swelling in the affected area. The pain may worsen with activity. If you notice any of the following symptoms, it’s essential to seek medical attention right away:
- Pain that doesn’t improve with rest
- Difficulty with weight-bearing activities like standing, walking, or running
Diagnosing Stress Fractures
If you’re experiencing persistent pain, it’s crucial to seek medical attention. Your orthopedic doctor will conduct a thorough physical examination and ask about your recent activities. They may also order imaging tests, such as X-rays or MRI, to confirm the bone fracture diagnosis.
How Are Stress Fractures Treated?
The treatment for stress fractures depends on the type and severity of the injury. In most cases, rest and avoiding activities that aggravate the injury are recommended. Ice, compression, and elevation of the affected area can also help relieve pain and swelling. Pain medication may be prescribed to manage discomfort.
In severe cases, a cast or walking boot may be necessary to immobilize the affected area. Surgery is rarely required, but it may be needed in some cases, such as if the stress fracture fails to heal or if it causes significant damage to the bone.
Recovery from Stress Fractures
Recovery from a stress fracture can take anywhere from a few weeks to months, depending on the severity of the injury. Usually, a stress fracture heals in 6 to 8 weeks.
- The key to recovering from a stress fracture is rest. Most stress fractures will heal on their own if you reduce your level of activity.
- Protection: Depending on the location of the stress fracture, the orthopedic surgeon may recommend wearing a walking boot or brace or using crutches.
- Gradual Return to Activity: Once the stress fracture has healed, you’ll need to gradually return to your previous level of activity. Starting too quickly can lead to more serious fractures that could potentially require surgical treatment.
- Physical Therapy: In some cases, a physical therapist can help strengthen your muscles and improve flexibility to avoid future injuries.
Bone Fracture Treatment in North Dakota
Stress fractures can be a frustrating and painful injury for athletes. However, with proper treatment and prevention strategies, they can be effectively managed and even prevented.
By listening to your body, using proper technique and form, investing in quality footwear, and gradually increasing your workouts, you can reduce your risk of stress fractures and enjoy a safe and healthy athletic career.
If you suspect that you may have a stress fracture or some other type of bone fracture, don’t hesitate to contact us here at The Bone & Joint Center. We will perform a thorough assessment to give you a diagnosis of bone fracture and develop a personalized treatment plan. Our orthopedic doctors can also provide you with all the education and guidance you need to prevent bone fractures in the future.
To learn more about our services or schedule a consultation, call us today at (800) 424-2663 or fill out our easy-to-use appointment request form. We look forward to serving you!