If you’re an athlete, you’re likely familiar with the term “stress fracture.” Maybe you heard a peer complaining about the pain, or you’ve heard it at the court, field, track, [insert your sports venue of choice]. So if you’re experiencing pain that sounds like that associated with a stress fracture, you may be wondering if this is the cause.
What is a stress fracture?
A stress fracture is the term used when a bone develops tiny cracks due to repetitive stress on a specific body part. As opposed to a sudden fracture from an acute injury, a stress fracture develops slowly over time. It occurs most often on a foot or lower leg.
Stress Fracture Symptoms
Signs of a stress fracture appear gradually. You may first experience slight pain while participating in your activity of choice. It’s easy to ignore in the beginning because as soon as you rest, the discomfort goes away.
However, if not diagnosed early, the fracture will become worse and pain will increase. Additional symptoms of a stress fracture include:
- Skin that feels warm to the touch
- Difficulty bearing weight
- Pain that subsides when resting
Common Causes of Stress Fractures
It’s important to note that practicing sports does not inherently mean that a person will get a stress fracture at some point. They usually occur when one doesn’t train or prepare properly, such as:
1. Not Wearing Adequate Shoes
There are different types of shoes for different sports for a reason. Depending on your activity, you’ll need support in different areas of your feet. Even within the same activity, there may be different styles to choose from, depending on your gait.
2. Being Overeager
Increasing the intensity or frequency of workouts all at once is a recipe for disaster. If you’re a beginner, let your body adjust to the level of activity. If you’re not sure, talk to a coach or read magazines targeted to people who participate in your sport of choice.
3. Not Resting
You have to allow your body enough time to recover from the workout. This is the time when your body repairs damaged tissue and replenishes its energy.
Risk Factors for Stress Fractures
Stress fractures could happen in any sport with repetitive motions, such as running, basketball, volleyball, gymnastics, ballet, or anything else that involves running long distances or jumping frequently. Other risk factors include:
- Eating disorders
- Amenorrhea (the absence of menstrual cycle)
- Sex: They are more common in women
Diagnosis of Stress Fractures
If you believe you have a stress fracture, your doctor will examine the area of pain for bruising or swelling. You’ll also likely walk around the office so the doctor can determine whether the pain is causing you to modify your gait. If the medical provider believes you have a stress fracture, they will order x-rays or an MRI to confirm.
Stress Fracture Treatment
Here’s the part we know most athletes will have an issue with: If you do indeed have a stress fracture, you will need to take time off from the sport that caused the injury. It doesn’t matter if you have a race or competition coming up. Take a deep breath, accept that you’ll likely have to miss it, and get comfortable with resting a lot more often than you’re used to.
Surgery: If the injury is severe or if you’re an elite athlete whose livelihood depends on the sport, your doctor will discuss whether you’re a good candidate for surgery.
Rest & Ice: If surgery is not necessary, you may have to use crutches to keep weight off the limb while it heals. You can also ice the injury for 15 minutes at a time, several times throughout the day. If the pain is constant, talk with your medical provider about taking ibuprofen.
Complications of Stress Fractures
Ignoring medical advice regarding a stress fracture could result in an aggravated injury, long-term chronic pain, and a higher likelihood of additional fractures.
Additionally, while a stress fracture may heal on its own without treatment, it could result in malunion. This means that the bone doesn’t align correctly when it heals. As a result, the limb could end up shorter than it was prior to the injury. It could also lead to cartilage breakdown if the injury was located near a joint. This increases the risk of post-traumatic arthritis.
Preventing Stress Fractures
There are several lifestyle changes you can implement to lower your risk of a stress fracture:
1. Be Mindful about Nutrition
Eating the right foods play an important role in bone health. Specifically, you need calcium, vitamin D, and magnesium.
2. Buy Shoes from a Specialty Store
There are several factors that come into play when purchasing the right pair of athletic shoes: Your gait, whether you’re an overpronator, or whether you have flat feet. This is why you need knowledge of the staff at a specialty store.
3. Increase Workout Intensity Gradually
No matter how eager you are to get better at your favorite sport, one way to prevent injuries is to increase the frequency and intensity gradually.
4. Cross Train
Since stress fractures are caused by overuse, changing up your routine gives your bones and muscles a break from the activity you participate in most. This will give them time to recover and be in optimal condition for your next favorite workout. If you’re a runner, go for a swim, ride a bicycle, or do yoga.
5. Lift Weights
Lifting weights will make your muscles stronger. This reduces some of the stress on your bones when you do a repetitive activity.
24-Hour Emergency Room Services in Colorado Springs and Texas
If you think you may have a stress fracture, we can provide the care you need. If you have questions or need immediate treatment, your nearest Complete Care location is ready to help, no matter the time of day or night. We offer a variety of services to help you and your family in your time of need. No appointments are necessary.
Find the Complete Care location nearest you.