- Published: 14 March 2017
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You’ve probably heard the term “stress fracture” at some point in your life. Maybe it’s because you’ve had to deal with the injury personally, or maybe you’ve seen your favorite college or pro athlete get sidelined because of a stress fracture. Lots of times, stress fractures can be attributed to overuse injuries, but that’s not always the case. Even though stress fractures can occur pretty much anywhere in the body, the weight-bearing bones of the foot, ankle, and lower leg are the most susceptible to sustaining this type of injury due to the amount of impact and force that they endure every day.
A stress fracture is basically a very small (microscopic) crack in a bone. Stress fractures are often seen in athletes who participate in sports that require a lot of running, like track, basketball, and soccer. However, it’s not just athletes who are at risk for developing stress fractures. Any sudden increase in activity increases the likelihood of sustaining a stress fracture. For example, let’s say that someone who typically leads a sedentary lifestyle decides that they’re going to start walking two miles every day, starting right now. Or that same person goes on a family vacation to Disney World and spends multiple days on his or her feet- walking through parks and exhibits, standing in lines, climbing stairs, etc. This sudden increase in activity can be enough to cause a stress fracture.
The most common symptom of a stress fracture is pain, which typically develops gradually and becomes worse during weight-bearing activities. Tenderness, swelling, and bruising can also occur, as can pain during the course of normal daily activities. Although sometimes surgery is necessary, stress fractures can usually be treated in a non-surgical manner via rest and ice, as well as things like modifying activities, wearing sturdy, protective shoes, and casting if the orthopaedic surgeon deems it necessary.
Stress fractures typically take anywhere from six to eight weeks to heal. Once you get the “all clear” from your orthopaedic surgeon, you’ll also receive some instructions on how to ease back into activity without reinjuring yourself. Re-injury can lead to chronic issues, which can hinder or completely halt proper healing.
If you’re experiencing pain in your feet, ankles, and/or lower legs, it’s a good idea to get evaluated by your orthopaedic surgeon. Ignoring the pain is never a good idea, as it can lead to further injury down the road.